Escape from hell. Captured pilot Devyatayev, hijacking a plane from under the nose of German rocket men

It is believed that rocket science is one of the most romantic industries. However, during the war years, the work of not only romantic engineers, but also tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners was involved in German rocket production. They also worked in the galleries of the plant in Mittelverka in the production of jet technology (5,946 V-2 ballistic missiles were manufactured, which can be considered the "great-grandmother" of the legendary R-7), and at the Peenemünde rocket center.

Many prisoners, not wanting to put up with their fate, sabotaged the work and organized an escape. I would like to tell you about the most unique case of escape from the “cradle of world rocket production” organized by the Devyatayev group. In short - 10 prisoners of the camp at the Peenemünde training ground on February 8, 1945 hijacked a German He-111 bomber and flew it across the front line. Details of this feat are presented below.

Polygon peenemünde

Since 1937, Peenemünde Rocket Research Center , located on about. Used in the Baltic Sea, intense work was carried out on the development and testing of missile weapons, in particular, the world's first serial ballistic missile V-2 (chief designer - Werner von Braun). The scale of the work is indicated by the number of personnel of the center: in 1943 it exceeded 15,000 people.

On the left is a diagram of the research and development rocket center in Peenemünde during the war years, where 1 is the starting position of the missiles; 4 - airfield; 5 - power station (now - the Historical and Technical Museum); 6 - aerodynamic laboratory, the concentration camp "Karlshagen" was located next to it; 9 - Fau-2 test benches; 10 - rocket factory; 11 - residential town. The right is a snapshot of Google Maps in the same part of the island these days. With the naked eye visible contours of the former test bench V-2.

On the left is a Google Maps snapshot of the Peenemünde Historical and Technical Museum today, where 1 is the V-1 projectile, 2 is a copy of the first V-2 rocket, 3 is a memorial stone to prisoners who were fleeing from the Devyatayev group. On the right is a close-up photo of the memorial stone, in which all the participants in the escape are listed.

Despite the severe destruction and death of hundreds of specialists after the airstrike on August 17, 1943 (597 heavy bombers of the British Air Force participated), and subsequent air strikes, intensive work in Peenemünde was conducted almost until the very end of the war. The last V-2 rocket launched from the test site on February 19, 1945, a total of 264 A-4 launches from the island were carried out. Also, accelerated development of the Wasserfal, Schmetterling, etc., was significantly accelerated ahead of its time. Boris Chertok in his book “Rockets and People” recalled that the buildings of the landfill in June 1945 were in satisfactory condition and, for the most part, the Peenemünde landfill could function if the equipment had not been evacuated / destroyed by German specialists.

“Echo of War”

The north coast of the island Usedom, which was bombed, still resembles a lunar landscape. Google Maps snapshot.

Also, the Allied air raids are reminiscent of the corps of a British bomber at the bottom of Lake Kölpien, located near the airfield of Uzedom. Link to its location on the map.

Since 1943, thousands of prisoners have worked in the Karlshagen concentration camp at the Peenemünde missile center, including neutralizing unexploded bombs and eliminating the effects of the bombings. The inhuman conditions of maintenance and labor of the prisoners of this camp are described in detail in the memoirs of Mikhail Devyatayev himself “Escape from Hell” and another organizer of the escape - Ivan Krivonogov “The Motherland is calling. Notes of an officer of the Soviet army ”. These books also present the events of the combat path of captured Soviet officers, some of which I cite below:

Fighting path of Mikhail Devyatayev and Ivan Krivonogov before escaping with o.Uzedom

Mikhail Petrovich Devyatayev

Mikhail Petrovich made his first combat mission on the morning of June 22, 1941. Having 9 air victories, the most severe wounding in the air, a long rehabilitation, after which - a ban on fighter control, two years of flying in an air ambulance at the helm Po-2, Devyatayev, with the help of his former commander V. I. Bobrov, falls into 9th Fighter Aviation Division under the command of Alexander Pokryshkin. The Pokryshkin Fighter Aviation Division was one of the best in the Red Army, and German pilots were afraid of meeting the talented divisional commander themselves by broadcasting clear text: “Achtung! Pokryshkin ist in der Luft! ”(“ Attention! Pokryshkin in the air! ”).

Subsequently, Pokryshkin highly appreciated the feat of Mikhail Petrovich (the text is presented in the memoirs of Devyatayev):
According to the circumstances of a military life in a war, you can be a prisoner, but you cannot become a prisoner ...
In addition, in the memoirs of A. I. Pokryshkin “To know oneself in battle”, a detailed description of the feat is presented. It is also noteworthy that in an interview in 1985, the pilots of the Pokryshkin division and the commander himself counted the hijacked plane to Mikhail Devyatayev at the expense of being shot down.

On July 13, 1944, during an air battle with superior enemy forces, the Bell P-39 Airacobra fighter under the command of Devyatayev was shot down over enemy territory. The pilot woke up already in the dugout, being captured.

After ineffectual interrogations, being first in Lodz, and then, in Kleinkenigsberg camp, with a shot through shoulder, a dislocated knee with burnt hands and face, the pilot begins to plan an escape. Mikhail Petrovich finds like-minded people and the first attempt is to dig a tunnel from the hut for the enclosure. The camp guard learns about the nearly completed tunnel and the escaping participants are sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. A prisoner who worked as a hairdresser saves the life in the dungeons of Devyataev's camp. He replaced the pilot card accused of attempting to escape and sabotage (the death penalty relied on it) for a card of a prisoner who had been killed earlier by the name of Nikitenko, and also replaced the embroidered tag with the individual prisoner number. Comrades from the underground resistance contributed to Devyataeva, who wanted to make an escape, sent to the camp on Uzedom, which was located near the airfield.

Ivan Pavlovich Krivonogov

Ivan Pavlovich began the war in the rank of lieutenant commander of the garrison of the border dota near the town of Lesko. The garrison held the defense for 13 days, until the German units surrounded the pillbox with superior forces and carried out several explosions of the casemates and the roof of the pillbox. After that, the wounded Krivonogov (his head was badly burned) and three of his comrades were able to break free from the destroyed dota. Having joined the group of the military, while trying to get food, the lieutenant is captured on July 6, 1941. In the early days, prisoners of war hid Krivonogov from the Germans, who, by the nature of the burns on his head, took him for a tankman and tried to find him. Then he was sent to a camp in Lorraine in the south of France, from where he was sent to several prisons and concentration camps for escaping and killing a warder. At the end of 1943 Krivonogov falls on about. Usedom where begins the organization of a new escape.

In October 1944, after Mikhail Devyatayev arrived on Uzedom, the backbone of the group was formed, which included Devyatayev, Krivonogov, Sokolov, Nemchenko and Kutergin himself. The group abandoned the old plan to escape to the mainland with the help of a boat and finally focused on hijacking the aircraft at the airfield.

Directly for hijacking the prisoners had to solve a number of problems:

  1. Team members needed to be on the airfield team in order to gain access to the aircraft. To do this, they throw a stolen ring to the current team leader (capo), who collaborated with the Germans. Kapo is accused of theft and execution. One of the organizers of the group (Nemchenko) becomes the head of the aerodrome team, which makes it possible to transfer to the team of the remaining escape participants.
  2. Mikhail Devyatayev did not have the experience of piloting German aircraft, especially bomber aircraft (the fighter was not suitable due to the large number of groups), therefore, it was necessary to collect the available information about the enemy’s aircraft technology:
    I began to carefully look at the German cars, using the slightest opportunity to get acquainted with them. <...> I began to study the details of the crashed aircraft, although without the risk of being shot, they could not be taken. Often we were assigned to clean up the wreckage of aircraft. During this work, I tore out various tablets from the dashboard, hid them in my pockets, in a cooking pot, and returning to the barracks, I tried to figure out what was happening, I studied the purpose of the instruments.
    <...> On one of the January days, we were forced to rake the snow off the planes, to mask them. I was really lucky: I cleared the wing of the aircraft from the snow and watched close by as the crew uncovered engines with familiar movements, connected the battery trolley to the onboard network, as the cabin doors opened. And when the motors started to roar, I wanted to look at least with one eye on the actions of the pilot who started the motors for heating. Climbing up on the wing, I saw how he handles the cockpit fittings, which he does during the launch of the aircraft. A pilot, apparently wanting to boast of his skill, then turned on, then turned off the motors ...
  3. It was necessary to choose the optimal escape time when the plane would not have an enemy. Taking advantage of German punctuality, the Devyatyeva group chose a lunch break for escaping:
    “... At this time, the fascists weaken their vigilance, and they leave their jobs. We noticed that if a German hammered half a nail, and at that time hit the bell for dinner, he quits his job and leaves. Lunch, and then finish this nail to the end. ”
    Successfully get to the plane was only the third time. Previous attempts failed because of the snow-covered landing gear (Dornier-217 bomber) and because of the engines that had been silenced by the crew (Heinkel 111 bomber, at that time Devyatayev did not yet know the engine start-up algorithm and wanted to hijack an airplane with running engines). In both cases, the crew and the aerodrome team were near the aircraft, which also reduced the chances of an inconspicuous capture of the bomber.
  4. At the right moment it was necessary to remove the guard guarding the group. With this task, with the help of pre-stored metal stick, Ivan Krivonogov coped. Before that, the guard was deceived by the supposedly previous order of the master, which was to repair the destroyed bunker near the airfield. The transition to the repair of the bunker allowed to get as close as possible to the selected aircraft.

    The choice of Mikhail Devyatayev fell on the newly-fueled Heinkel He 111 bomber. As it turned out later, he was equipped with radio equipment for testing missiles.
  5. 10 prisoners of the camp were engaged in the repair of the bunker, five of them were not aware of the escape, so they indignantly reacted to the killing of the guard. Ivan Krivonogov with a security guard rifle in his hands promptly brought up the knowledge of the uninitiated participants, after which, the whole group moved to the plane.
  6. It was necessary to get into the cockpit, which, surprisingly to the prisoners, was locked up. Mikhail Devyatayev had to make a hole in the dural body of the fuselage to reach the door handle inside the aircraft.
  7. It was necessary to start the aircraft engines without batteries on board. Once in the cabin, Devyatayev first of all took off the prisoner's striped robe, so that the Germans from afar could not understand that the prisoner was driving the plane. Sitting at the helm and turning on the power on the electrical equipment panel, the pilot discovered the absence of current in the bomber’s on-board network. The battery box located behind the armored backrest was empty. The prisoners did not lose their head and drove a trolley with batteries found nearby, after which they hooked it up to the plane’s network by analogy with the actions of German technicians. This allowed to start the engines.

    Further, according to the plan, a masking cover was removed from the aircraft, the landing gear was freed from the supporting pads, and the prisoners settled down inside the fuselage. Despite the mortal danger, the plane began taxiing to the runway only after the engines were warming up (hello to some modern automakers who claim that, from a technical point of view, the engine is not required to warm up).
  8. The first take-off attempt did not succeed, because the exhausted pilot alone could not keep the helm in the desired position "over" after accelerating on the runway, with increasing speed, he began to push Devyatayev more heavily on his chest. The bomber, moving at take-off speed, was threatened with a slide on the Baltic coast at the end of the runway. The pilot manages to release the gas and try to stop the plane with brakes, and when he realizes that this does not help, he does the following:
    “... I pressed my foot on the left brake pedal with incredible force and increased the speed of the right motor. As if in a whirlwind, the plane acquired a furious rotational movement of the left turn with the right roll, made a turn around the steep seashore that the cantilevered part of the right plane plowed the ground and the left landing gear wheel went up. ”
    After the turn, the plane returns to the starting position for the second attempt. All these actions attracted the attention of the airfield personnel and the Germans began to flee to the aircraft.

    The weakened captive pilot, who then weighed less than 40 kilograms, could not cope alone with the helm at the second attempt at takeoff. For separation from the strip took the effort of three people. Finally, after four strikes of the landing gear on the cement path, the plane took off and began to climb.

After takeoff, Devyatayev and his comrades faced the following difficulties:

  1. The pressure on the steering wheel was still transcendental, as soon as the comrades eased the pressure, the plane went into an uncontrolled climb at a high angle of attack. Devyatayev had to distract his comrades from the singing of the "Internationale", and they zealously leaned on the wheel. The effort turned out to be excessive, the plane began to swoop down and almost touched the Baltic waves before the pilot managed to correct the pressure on the steering wheel, sufficient for horizontal flight without sharp fluctuations in pitch. In the course of the flight, Devyatayev, studying the instruments of the aircraft, came across the wheel of the elevator trimmer, which was in the landing position. This was the cause of excessive pressure on the steering wheel, after adjusting the trimmer, aircraft control became possible alone.

    The red line marks the elevator control trimmer wheel, which is designed to remove the balancing effort from the aircraft steering wheel. A photo of the cockpit of the He-111 bomber from a similar angle could not be found; an image from the game reality is presented
  2. While still gaining altitude, the Devyatayev noticed enemy fighters taking off to intercept. The pilot, having no advantage in speed, goes to the clouds heading north-west. The fighters lost sight of the stolen He-111, and were unable to locate it in dense clouds, not knowing the exact course of the bomber.
  3. After the stabilization of the bomber and out of the clouds, the question arose about the direction of flight. The Devyatayev group did not manage to get a map of Eastern Europe, in connection with which it was decided to fly east and then south to the location of the Soviet troops. Oriented the plane by the sun.
  4. After crossing the Baltic coast 300-400 km from the airfield, over the front line the plane came under fire from the Soviet anti-aircraft artillery. As a result, a gaping hole in the plane of the right wing and two wounded from the escape team. Mikhail Devyatayev decides to land on the loose snow of the nearest field. After a hard landing (the chassis were broken down as a result of hitting the ground), the escaped prisoners find themselves in the Soviet 61st Army, where, seeing their thin bodies, the soldiers first fed the prisoners in the dining room. The unique escape has been successfully completed!

After escape

The officers (Devyatayev, Krivonogov, Emets) were sent by counterintelligence to confirm their military ranks, and did not take part in the hostilities. After the operational check, the remaining seven participants in the escape were enlisted in the company of the 777th Infantry Regiment, and all but Fyodor Adamov were killed at the front in 1945.

Mikhail Devyatayev promptly transmitted to the command of the 61st army information about the exact location of the rocket technology in Peenemünde. It is difficult to say how this information and the subsequent bombardment affected the curtailment of the missile program on Uzedom, since, according to the recollections of Fon Braun’s colleague Dieter Hutzel, the decision to evacuate the island was made on 3 February. One way or another, the evacuation from the Peenemünde test site began on February 17, 1945.

To complete the inspection, Devyatayev was transferred to the “Special Camp №7” of the NKVD, located on the territory of the former concentration camp “Sachsenhausen”. According to the memoirs of Devyatayev, in September 1945, he was summoned by Colonel Sergeev for consultations during the inspection of the Peenemünde test site. Inspection took a few days. Only many years later, Devyatayev learned the real name of the colonel - he turned out to be the general designer S. P. Korolev.

Edit: As a user of Teecat rightly noted, Sergei Pavlovich in the fall of 1945 had the rank of lieutenant colonel, as evidenced by the memoirs of Boris Chertok and photos from the family archive presented in Natalya Koroleva’s book “We must live with passion”:

Photo by S. P. Korolev in 1945-1946.
S.P. Korolev, Berlin, November 1945

S.P. Korolev at the Peenemünde training ground with the rank of colonel, 1946. It is possible that there is an inaccuracy in the memoirs of Devyataev in the dating of his second visit to Peenemünde.

At the end of 1945, Devyatayev was demobilized, however, the all-union recognition of the feat of the Devyatayev group took place only 12 years later, in 1957. On August 15, 1957, Mikhail Devyatayev was awarded the Honored Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union.

In one of his last interviews, Mikhail Devyatayev told why he considers the initiator of the title of Hero of Sergey Pavlovich Korolev to be awarded to him:

In the summer of 2002, Mikhail Devyatayev visited Uzedom and met with Gunther Hobom, a fighter pilot sent to intercept a stolen bomber.

Instead of PS, the value of the Devyatayev group’s escape is difficult to overestimate, this is both the liberation of people from the harshest conditions of captivity, and the hijacking of an aircraft with unique equipment, which had no analogues in the USSR, and the punishment of the camp and firing authorities infuriated by Goering. But the most important thing is one of the most striking examples of the achievement of a goal, courage, professionalism and triumph of fortitude over seemingly insurmountable circumstances.

All the Victory Day!

User comments on the fate of relatives who have been in German captivity
katok535 : I am proud that my grandfather, Anatoly Ivanovich Tyurin, the commander of the mortar platoon, received an award (medal) along with Devyatayev (he received the Hero). Grandfather fled from the camp twice, was sentenced to be shot, but he managed to escape. Sentenced for the first, led to the execution - saved, no matter how ridiculous, bourgeois private property, with which his grandfather fought. Five people were put against the wall, the owner of the wall jumped out and became indignant. Either he didn’t want the bullets to spoil the masonry, or he simply didn’t allow himself to be shot. The guard escorted them into the woods, and the prisoners, realizing that death was inevitable, decided to run away with a scattering signal - they say they won't kill everyone, someone has a chance to survive. What is interesting, all survived! Grandfather believed that the German intentionally shot in the air. I did not want to kill people senselessly at the end of the war. No one will ever know the truth ...
He came to the Americans - he had never seen blacks before, he decided that he was in hell. It was an extremely dangerous moment for his life - they fed chocolate, but he was starving, he could turn the intestines ... He was repressed after returning to the USSR, because not only was he captured, but also went out to the Americans. Then he was rehabilitated and, together with Devyatayev, he was awarded. The plane did not hijack, so only a medal. Thanks, grandfather!
vershinin : Repressed - what is it like? Got to jail? To camp? Or detained in the filter?
katok535 : Camp. I do not know exactly how much time sat. Then he returned home, gradually reinstated his rights - in civilian specialty, he worked as an engineer in Gipromez (metal products). Somehow he didn’t tell much ... I must say that both grandfathers, unlike tales on TV, always frowned at memories of War. Did not like to tell. And even for “we can repeat!” We could have a slap in the face ... I remember very well the crippled veterans, with empty sleeves, on crutches, and with medal slats. Yes, and my "both grandfathers," who returned from the war, should not be led into illusion - my paternal grandfather had 10 sons in his family. Two returned, including him. Would he like to “repeat” what do you think? .. Maternal grandfather — concussion, captivity, camp, escape, sentence, second escape, again camp — already in the USSR. Would he like to repeat? ..

Vanellope : My grandfather, a simple soldier, received from captivity in full. The Nazis suggested that he was an officer disguised as a soldier. Bearing was an officer. Therefore, the first Gestapo and torture. Then, without having achieved anything, sent to a concentration camp. Then the farm laborer at the Bauers until the end of the war. Then the liberation by the Americans and the proposal not to return to their own, because the prisoners were waiting for the camp in their homeland. But he returned to his and got a ticket to the camps. For being surrounded by the order of the commander and did not shoot himself instead of captivity. But the commander forbade the taking of weapons, passed the whole regiment surrounded, and it’s difficult to shoot a rifle. But despite such a past, after being liberated at 53m, they almost immediately called for work in the MGB.

Stirliz85 : ... My grandfather, in his own words, spent longer in captivity, in hospitals and during interrogations than in actual combat. The first time he himself ran almost immediately, then a concussion and a hospital, then another captivity, from which he released himself, then another contusion. Between escape and return to the front several months of inquiries and other checks. But he was not an officer. Perhaps so “easy” would not get off if the title was higher.

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