The Russian Pilot
By John T. McDonald
A 9th AF Group, identified as the 357th Fighter Group, was located at an airbase designated R-85 near Neubilburg, on the outskirts of Munich, Germany. This Group had been transferred out of the 8th AF into the 9th, to serve as a part of the Occupational Forces. The move from Leiston, England to Germany was made shortly after the surrender of The Third Reich in mid-1945. The 357th was equipped with P-51 planes.
On afternoon, without announcement, a strange aircraft approached R-85 to land. Capt. (Earl Duke) Botti, the control tower operator, attempted radio contact with it's pilot, but to no avail. As the plane passed the control tower, Earl Duke saw the Red Star on its fuselage and he realized that he had a problem on his hands. He immediately contacted Major Hunt for advice. The plane, a Yak 9, stopped down near the hanger area and a Jeep and an emergency vehicle closed off its escape. The battery was removed from the Russian plane and the pilot was placed under Base Arrest until Higher Headquarters could be contacted from instructions. The pilot may have been lost, low on fuel, or in an act of desertion or sent there for intelligence purposes by Russian Higher Command. There were many questions awaiting answers.
Each day one of our pilots were assigned to accompany the Russian pilot and to closely watch on his behavior and to prevent him from entering areas important to Base Operations.
An interpreter was located so some communication could be carried on with the Russian. Many questions were asked but little information was learned.
I was not on Base at the time of this excitement. I departed early the next morning on another duty assignment for the A-4 section. Most of my information had to come from others who were more directly involved in the events of the next few weeks. Lt. Lawrence Westphal of the 364th FS related to me the following, "We had a brief encounter with several replacement pilots who had recently transferred into the 357th from the ATC and had been flying C-47s. They were to be checked out in P-51s. Late one afternoon three or four of these ATC boys were watching a pilot above wring-out a P-51, I think the pilot doing the wringing was Major Bockay. Soon the replacement pilot and his escort joined the crowd. One of the replacement pilots, remarked, 'That looks to me like a good way to bust ones butt.' Immediately, thru an interpreter, the Russian Pilot replied, "What's the matter, you afraid to die?"
Lt. G. A. Robinson of the 362nd FS told me that he had two tours with the Russian. He learned that the Russian claimed to have a total of forty flying hours and only nine of actual combat. One time just at Retreat time, they were walking across the drill field and heard the Bugler blowing Taps; the Russian began to smile and finally broke out into a laugh at the sound of the Bugle. Lt. Robinson asked the interpreter, "Why such a strange reaction?" The Russian pilot only shook his head but gave no reply. This made Lt. Robinson wonder if the Russian Pilot had lost his marbles.
Finally word came down from Higher Headquarters to release the Russian. In refueling his plane and checking it over, it was discovered that most of the air, held in a compression tank in the fuselage, had leaked out. This was necessary to raise and lower the two main landing wheels. Capt Robert Lynch of the 469th Squadron and two of his men were called in to correct the problem. However, they found that their tools and fittings would not function with the metric connections of the Yak and no repair could be made.
Lt. Westphal asked me if I was on the flight line when the Russian took-off? I replied that I was away from the base at the time, he said, "You missed a good show, when the Yak left the runway one wheel was dangling and the other was only three quarters of the way up. He did a 180 and came back very low and did three rolls very low on the deck. I'm sure I would not attempt such a trick with one wheel hanging down like that."
The Yak turned toward the east and soon faded out of sight. That was the last known about the Russian Pilot however, many of our boys wondered what kind of a reception he received when he reached his home base.
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