Aviation of World War II
A.W.41 Albemarle in the USSR
In 1942, when the Soviet Air Force was suffering from a lack of equipment, the Soviet ambassador in London, I.M. Maisky, agreed to supply 200 of these aircraft to the USSR. On this occasion, in October 1942, a separate agreement was concluded between the British and Soviet governments.
The ferrymen for the Albemarles were recruited from among the very experienced specialists of the 1st transport air division under the command of Colonel V.M. Korotkov. All crews consisted of officers from lieutenant to colonel. Among them were the future Heroes of the Soviet Union, famous transport aviation pilots A.S. Shornikov, G.A. Taran, S.A. Frolovsky.
For the retraining of crews in January 1943, the British formed a special 305th training unit at Errol airbase near the city of Dundee in Scotland. Before leaving for England, the Soviet pilots were briefly introduced to foreign aircraft. At the "Bostons" in Yoshkar-Ola, they were taught the technique of takeoff and landing on aircraft with a nose landing gear (which was not yet used on Soviet aircraft). Members of this group got to England in different ways. The most successful flew to London in comfort directly from Kratov near Moscow in the belly of the English Liberator. Those who were less fortunate traveled by train to Arkhangelsk, and from there they were taken to Lake Krasnoe, where Catalinas periodically flew in, "shuttle" patrolling the path of movement of the Arctic convoys. And finally, some sailed to England by sea, aboard transports and escort ships in the same convoys. On January 11, the first three Soviet pilots and three flight mechanics arrived in Dundee, and on January 13, the first two aircraft flew to Errol for them. Training flights began on January 21. On January 28, the second group of trainees arrived from the USSR. Since February, Soviet radio operators began to study at another base, in Prestwick.
Aircraft were going to overtake on a risky route through the North Sea, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Baltic Sea, through the zone of action of enemy fighters. There was a long way to go at high altitude to avoid interception. For this purpose, the Albemarles in England were specially modified. This mainly concerned the power plant and oil coolers, it was necessary to ensure a long rise of the aircraft overloaded with fuel to a height. This work was carried out by the 27th part of the maintenance in Shawbury.
The possibility of a long climb with full tanks was experimentally tested by British testers. To combat icing, they were going to use a special paste resembling Vaseline. By the paste lubricated the plane, but it did not justify itself.
The retraining program for our pilots in Scotland was quite short. Two flights with an instructor during the day, two more at night, plus four independent flights and that's it. The “language barrier” was bypassed as best they could, having learned several dozen basic terms and standard phrases for communicating with instructors and flight directors at the control tower.
On March 3, 1943, the first crew took off from Errol: pilot captain A.S. Shornikov, navigator lieutenant P.N. Yakimov, radio operator lieutenant A.A. Verderevsky and flight engineer mechanic G.I. Galaktionov. They were flying an Albemarle T.I with tail number P1567. The weather was bad, the plane was icy, the English paste on the leading edge of the wing was mixed with ice. Over the Soviet territory "Albemarle" went on the drive radio beacons. After nine hours of flight, in the morning of the next day, the plane landed at the Vnukovo airfield.
This first machine was followed by 12 more Albemarles (four ST.Is, seven ST.IIs and two GT.Is) during March-April. The planes were carrying cargo: tools, spare parts, special equipment.
The path was long and dangerous. It lay over the territory occupied by the enemy, and at any moment it was possible to fear an attack by fighters. And weapons were not installed on these Albemarles. Pistols in the pockets of the crew members were the only weapons on board. To protect themselves from interception, the pilots climbed as high as possible. It was they who had the hardest time of all. The Albemarle did not have an autopilot, but there was a second control column, usually tilted to the side so as not to interfere with the passage to the forward compartment. However, each crew included only one pilot, and there was no one to replace him. And 8-10 hours of continuous work at the helm is probably close to the limit of human endurance.
And the weather sometimes brought surprises. The plane of Captain I.Z. Kachanov was so iced over that it fell into an uncontrollable fall. On the machine, all the antennas were cut off. The pilot managed to bring the machine into horizontal flight only near the ground itself, and he saw with horror that this was happening over the positions of the Germans, who had opened fire from all types of weapons. Kachanov hurried away into the clouds. The plane, which lost its orientation and communication, moved due to the magnetic compass due east. Only a few hours later the clouds dispersed and the navigator saw that the Volga was below them! In addition to all the troubles, an unfamiliar machine was fired from machine guns by their own anti-aircraft gunners when landing in Kazan. Fortunately, the plane managed to land safely, but the adventures of the crew did not end there. All those who arrived were immediately arrested by airfield security. For an unfamiliar type of aircraft and foreign uniforms, they were mistaken for spies.
Two aircraft: Captain A.I. Kulikov (March 2) and Senior Lieutenant F.F. Ilchenko (April 27) - went missing during the transfer. They were searched for by English ships and planes, the Swedish coast guard was requested, but no traces were found. Later it turned out that Ilchenko's "Albemarle" deviated from the course and was shot down by German fighters.
One Soviet crew (Captain S.A. Gruzdin) crashed during a training flight in the mountains of Scotland together with English instructors. Captain S.A. Frolovsky managed to make two voyages - on March 27 on T.II and on April 27 on T.I. Until the end of June, 11 machines were overtaken.
In the Soviet Union, aircraft were subjected to rigorous testing. For example, two PT.I were tested at the Air Force Research Institute. One machine was also tried at LII. The conclusion was disappointing. British machines were significantly inferior to both domestic long-range bombers and PS-84 transport aircraft, which were already in service with our Air Force.
A large number of shortcomings were also revealed during the operation of the first Albemarls that arrived to us in military units. The machines were divided approximately equally between transport aviation, which was then in the dual subordination of the Civil Air Fleet and the Air Force, and fleet aviation. The first aircraft were used to equip the then formed 3rd regiment of the 1st transport division, from which the crews were mainly recruited for ferrying. The division was based in Vnukovo. A little later, Albemarly was received by the transport squadron of the 65th Special Purpose Regiment of the Navy Air Force, located at the Izmailovsky airfield.
Since the ferry pilots had to make several flights, they were again sent to Scotland. The new crews, who received unfamiliar vehicles, had to master them on their own. With the help of specialists from the Research Institute of the Civil Air Fleet, headed by engineer Kuznetsov in Vnukovo, they prepared a technical description of the Albemarl, a maintenance schedule and an operating manual. By the summer, British aircraft began cargo transportation in the rear.
The machine received the insulting nickname "loophead", and Soviet pilots spoke of it no better than English ones. In the reports of the engineer of the 3rd Regiment, Kolychev, many defects were identified already in the first flights. As in England, the lack of control of the oil cooler dampers from the cockpit was sharply criticized: they were installed on the ground in the same mode “for one, two or three holes”.
The absence of an emergency braking system represented a direct danger. In the 3rd regiment, a navigator died during a brake failure during an emergency landing in Baku. It was crushed in the forward compartment as the Albemarle overran the runway and crashed into the hangar. A serious defect was an unsuccessful fuel supply scheme. Each motor was powered from its own group of tanks without cross connection: if the engine failed, then its fuel became useless cargo.
The slurry corroded the copper pipes of the hydraulic system, copper settled on the stems of the landing gear retracting valves, leading to their failure. The propellers had only two positions, corresponding to large and small pitch, without intermediate ones, which limited the pilot's freedom in choosing the most economical flight mode.
Nipples in the hydraulic control system were butt welded to the tubes. From shaking, the seam collapsed and the slurry flowed out. As a result, the propeller changed its pitch and led to over-rotation of the engine. Due to this defect in the 3rd regiment, two aircraft were out of order.
A lot of annoying small clearance between the tips of the propeller blades and the ground (about 300 mm). This made it difficult to take off even from a contaminated concrete runway, not to mention unpaved areas.
Designed as a bomber, the Albemarle was clearly inconvenient as a transport. The fuselage inside seemed very cramped, the braces of the supporting truss greatly interfered. It was difficult to get from the cockpit to the tail, in some places you even had to get on all fours.
Usually these planes carried urgent cargo. Here they used the fact that the Albemarle was superior to the PS-84 (Li-2) in speed and range. Only once did they try to fly in an English machine to the rear of the Germans to drop leaflets. The reliability of the aircraft left much to be desired, almost no flight was without trouble, and it seemed very dangerous to cross the front line.
They tried to use "Albemarl" for training paratroopers, but after a test flight in Tushino (the crew of M.I. Grigoriev flew), this idea was abandoned. The narrow fuselage, cluttered with trusses, prevented the paratroopers from approaching the hatch, and the hatch itself turned out to be cramped. Interestingly, the USSR did not even try Albemarl as a towing cargo glider.
After reviewing the results of the first weeks of operation of Albemarle in our country, the commission led by Marshal Astakhov recommended that they be refused further acceptance or, at least, seriously modified. Back in May, the distillation of aircraft was suspended. In September, the Soviet government officially abandoned 100 aircraft, and required 86 to be modified.
And at the end of the summer of 1943, American S-47s began to enter the 1st transport division, after getting to know them, our pilots tried their best to get rid of the British machines. The ferrymen continued training in Scotland until April 18, 1944, studying in parallel the Mosquito, for which our military had certain views. But soon the last 86 Albemarls were refused, and on April 30 the training unit was disbanded. Soviet crews returned home by sea.
What is the fate of the 12 planes that arrived in the USSR? They served in the 1st (later 10th Guards) Division for about a year and a half. During this time, at least two aircraft were destroyed in accidents. Of these, one collapsed into a lake near Sverdlovsk.
Then the machines, still suitable for flying, were handed over to naval aviation. In total, seven Albemarls turned out to be in the hands of naval pilots. Four of them served in the 65th regiment, where they transported cargo from one rear airfield to another. In 1944, two still flying machines were transferred to the Levanevsky Higher Naval Aviation School, which was then located in the Volga town of Bezenchuk. Three more planes from Vnukovo also arrived there. All "Albemarles" in the school entered the training regiment of navigators. The aircraft were converted into training bombers, with six seats for cadets in the fuselage and heels for bomber sights at each seat, as well as bomb racks under the wings for practical bombs. Together with the school, the planes were subsequently relocated to Nikolaev. On May 9, 1945, two Albemarles were still listed as in service. In the autumn of the same year they were written off.
According to some reports, two aircraft ended up in the 25th reserve regiment in Azerbaijan, which specialized in retraining crews for imported equipment. They were used there purely as training. At least one aircraft in the regiment was destroyed in late 1943.
Numbers of aircraft delivered to the USSR: P1455, P1477, P1562, P1567, P1590, P1595, P1636, P1637, P1638, P1640, P1642, P1645, P1647, V1598.