Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Escaping from death camp on Nazi bomber

Mikhail Devyatayev was the thirteenth child in the family of peasant Pyotr  Devyataev. But it was Mikhail, who glorified his father's name. Mikhail Devyatayev piloted the plane hijacked from the German airdrome. There were ten Soviet prisoners on board that plane. It was a rare feat when emaciated concentration camp prisoners succeeded in a daring escape.

Mikhail was growing a common boy, a street hooligan, who went to Kazan after finishing seven years of school. In Kazan, he entered the Marine College. Many boys were dreaming of becoming pilots during those days. In addition to adventures in the blue sky, barefoot boys were very attracted to leather helmets and aviator jackets. After graduating from the college, Mikhail came to the recruitment office and said he wanted to be a military pilot.

In the early days of the Great Patriotic War, fighter pilot Mikhail Devyatayev found himself on the front near Minsk-Mogilev. On June 24, 1941, he shot down a diving bomber Junkers Ju 87. Afterwards, his fighter regiment participated in the defense of Moscow and was subsequently awarded the Order of the Red Banner. Mikhail was wounded in the air battle over Tula. Having stayed for 13 days in the hospital, he returned to his military unit that had already been relocated to Voronezh.

In September of 1941, returning from a mission, Devyataev's aircraft was attacked by Luftwaffe fighters. The Russian man was injured in his leg. Firing back, the pilot took the plane to the airport, landed the aircraft and lost consciousness immediately, right in the cockpit.

In May 1944, Major Bobrov found Devyataev and introduced him to the Hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel Alexander Pokryshkin, who was about to take command of the 9th Fighter Division. The latter took Mikhail in the 104th Aviation Regiment that had received Airacobra P-39N aircraft from allies.

The commander of the 104th Fighter Aviation Regiment, lieutenant Devyataev, had downed nine enemy aircraft by that time. Luck turned away from him on 13 July 1944, near Lviv: his plane was shot down. Jumping out of the burning aircraft, Mikhail hit the tail stabilizer and lost consciousness. He managed to pull the ring of the parachute, though. The pilot was taken captive. 

Devyatayev later recalled: "I was standing in front of the desk, at which the officer was sitting. He talked to me through the interpreter. They asked me if I was Russian. I told them that I was from Mordovia, which was true. The officer said that he didn't know such a nationality. I told him that he did not know a lot of things about our country."

The Germans moved their POWs further to the rear, to the camp at Kleinkoenigsberg. At the camp, a group of compatriots, to which Mikhail joined, was plotting to escape. Nazis decided to use the prisoners and their work to the utmost. The POWs were transferred to the death camp of Sachsenhausen, where they were expecting imminent death from overwork or inhuman experiments on living people.

In sanitation barracks, the hairdresser replaced Mikhail's death row label with a "penalty man" one that belonged to murdered Ukrainian teacher Stepan G. Nikitenko. According to documents, Mikhail Devyatayev was "killed and burned."  A corresponding entry was made on December 5, 1944.

Under the name of Stepan Nikitenko, the pilot was sent to the island of Usedom, to Karlshagen I camp, where Nazis were developing secret weapons - cruise missiles V-1 and ballistic missiles V-2. Soviet prisoners performed the role of forced assistants there. A death camp is not a resort. Nazis could send anyone to the gas chamber or beat anyone to death at any time, especially when a worker could hardly work from exhaustion.

One of the participants of the escape, Ivan Krivonogov (he killed the guard) wrote in his memoirs: "Near the airdrome, the Germans made a dump of broken aircraft. Mikhail would try to approach them at any moment, to take a closer look at control levels. Sometimes he managed to tear off labels with the names of devices and bring them to the camp, where he translated them into Russian. Mikhail tried to remember the name, purpose and location of devices." 

Finally, on a sunny day of February 8, 1945, having killed a security guard, a group of 11 prisoners came up to the twin-engine bomber Heinkel He 111. The prisoners boarded the plane very quickly. They were lucky that no German anti-aircraft gun fired at them. They were lucky during the flight when Nazis sent a Luftwaffe ace after them, but he failed to find the fugitives. The other one, who was returning from a mission, could not execute the order due to the lack of ammunition. The fugitives were even luckier, when they landed on Soviet territory and when Soviet anti-aircraft gunners did not attack the German plane. 

Igor Bukker


Read the original in Russian