Soviet pilot Kolesnikov’s WWII mystery mission in Perthshire is solved

Soviet pilot Kolesnikov’s WWII mystery mission in Perthshire is solved

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) A group photograph of Soviet pilot Kolesnikov with 10 other uniformed Soviet airmen during their mysterious 2nd world war time stay in Scotland (2) Anna, who uncovered the mystery of her grandfather’s stay in U.K. (3) A group of Soviet POWs, some 2.8 million Soviet prisoners of war were killed in just eight months between 1941 & 1942 by the Nazis (4) British twin engine Armstrong Albemarle in flight on 7th September 1943

U.K. & France signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler’s Nazi Germany in 1938. Part of Czechoslovakia, where the ethnic German population had been living, was also handed over to Nazi Germany under the terms of the agreement. Soviet Union opposed this annexation and the agreement. USSR felt vulnerable to possible attack by Germany or the West and subsequently signed the Soviet-Nazi pact called Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement on 23rd August 1939.

The Soviet-Nazi pact was a non aggression between the two countries and promised the Soviets control over half of Eastern Europe while the Nazi Germany possessing the other half. The pact with Russia also protected Germany and helped its invasion of Poland shortly that sparked the WWII. Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. Britain was sympathetic to Finland against Soviet Union which soured the relationship between Britain and USSR.

Soviet Union supplied oil and aviation fuel to the Nazis which helped the German air force (Luftwaffe) in the heavy assault against the U.K. In the summer of 1940, Hitler’s troops were able to conquer most of Western Europe because of the Soviet connivance with Nazi Germany. Despite the Nazi & Russian ongoing relations, each side was deeply suspicious of the intentions of the other.

Germany entered tripartite Axis Pact with Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan on 27th September 1940 and began talks with Soviets for a Russian entry into the Axis Pact. Soviets offered a counter-proposal to which Nazi Germany did not respond. A conflict seemed more likely and Germany invaded Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941 with over 4 million Axis soldiers along a 2,900 kilometers front. The invasion was codenamed Operation Barbarossa and was the largest invasion in warfare history.

The 5 months, 1 week & 6 days long invasion resulted in an operational & tactical Axis victory. Soviet Union had total strength of 5.5 million soldiers with more that 3 million soldiers in the frontline. The invasion was also the largest in casualties as well. 201,874 Germans soldiers were killed or missing in action with 600,584 more wounded in action. While the Soviet Union’s situation was dire with 802,191 killed, 2,335,482 missing in action and 1,256,421 wounded in battle. Over 3 million more Soviet POWs were captured by German forces. Most of the POWs were not granted protection as per Geneva Conventions by the Nazis as Germany deliberately starved most of the prisoners to death as part of ‘Hunger plan’, a plot to reduce population of Eastern Europe.

However, the Soviet Red army repelled the Nazi’s strongest blow and Hitler could not achieve expected Moscow victory. USSR thereafter joined the Allies of WWII along with United Kingdom. The Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran between 25th August 1941 and 17th September 1941 ensured that the oil fields would not fall into the Axis hands.

Supplies between Britain and Soviet Union were transported by Arctic convoys. A treaty was signed by Britain with Soviet Union and military supplies were sent to USSR. A policy of neutrality was held by twenty nations in September 1939. Sweden and 6 other countries could officially maintain this stance throughout the entire WWII. But sometimes, the Swedish Government breached the neutrality in favor of both Nazi Germany and the Allies.

During the Nazi invasion of USSR, Sweden allowed German combined Wehrmacht forces  to transport war equipment and troopers from Norway to Finland using Swedish railways between June and July 1941. German soldiers on leave were allowed passage through Sweden to travel between Norway & Germany. Sweden sold iron ore to Germany throughout the war.

Sweden also helped the Allies by sharing military intelligence and by training refugees from Norway & Denmark to become Allied soldiers to liberate their Nazi occupied countries. Sweden also gave shelter to anti-fascist & Jewish refugees from all over Europe. The country also allowed its airbase to be used by the Allies between 1944 & 1945.

The online edition of Glasgow based renowned Scottish daily tabloid newspaper, Daily Record reported that the mystery of Soviet pilot Peter Kolesnikov’s WWII mission in Perthshire, Scotland is solved recently by his granddaughter Anna Belorusova after her persistent 20 years long investigation. Anna was baffled by her grandfather’s war mystery for decades. Thanks to her investigation, the story of the heroic Soviet pilot Kolesnikov and his comrades will be the focus of a special exhibition at Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre in Scotland.

Soviet pilot Kolesnikov was awarded 8 medals for his courageous flying during the WWII. The medals included 2 Orders of the Red Star & medals for gallantry during the defense of Leningrad & Moscow during Nazi Operation Barbarossa. The ace pilot was among a Russian group who were flown secretly to Errol in Perthshire during WWII. Little was known of their secret mission until Anna decoded the secrets from her grandfather’s belongings which were left to the family when Peter died aged 42 in Russia in 1948.

Soviet pilot Kolesnikov’s belongings included a map of Britain’s coast, a photograph, a Christmas menu adorned with a thistle, several postcards, a book for teaching English and a group photograph of Peter with 10 other uniformed Soviet airmen alongside a man in suit.

Anna struck gold last December, when new information came from the RAF museum in London. She was told that there were two files about British and Soviet air missions in the National Archives at Kew. One of Anna’s friends whose grandfather was in RAF intelligence pointed out that ‘Xeph’ mentioned in Peter’s belongings could stand for Hurn, the name of Bournemouth airport during wartime.

Anna and her friends found a photograph of RAF and Russian aircrew at Errol airfield in 1943 while searching information on Hurn from the Aviation Museum in Kirriemuir.  Though Soviet pilot Kolesnikov was not in the photo, but Anna identified the man in suit in the photo Peter had left. While visiting National Archives in Kew, Anna checked RAF records for Errol. The first name she saw in the records was Peter Kolesnikov. She was overwhelmed to find her grandfather’s everyday records at Errol airbase from 1st January 1943 to 30th April 1944.

She said that there had been details of my grandfather’s daily flying records in Errol, Christmas dinner at the English officer’s mess- for which she had the menu- and visits to London, Edinburgh & York- of which she had the old postcards. ‘The puzzle was coming together’ she added.

Civilian airman Peter was picked for the Special Moscow Air Group when the war started. According to Anna, her grandfather Peter’s job was carrying out airborne operations to defend Moscow, evacuating starving people from besieged Leningrad and delivering food in 1941.

She also said that Peter had been doing night landings under heavy artillery fire in 1942, before the fall of Sevastopol to evacuate the wounded and had flown behind enemy lines to deliver ammunition and food to partisans during the Rzhev campaign.

An aerodrome had been opened in Errol in 1940 and after a secret deal between Russia and the United Kingdom, the finest of the Moscow Special Air Transport team were sent to Errol in 1942. In 1938, British Government acquired the land from the farmers out of the fear of Sweden might take Germany’s side. As Errol was the shortest route to Sweden, its position was important.

After Sweden’s declaration of staying neutral, Errol was turned into an Allied training base and more than 2000 Allied trappers were stationed there. Anna also discovered that the Russian pilots had been sent to Errol to take training to fly the twin engine Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle bombers. U.K. & U.S. supplied many airplanes to Soviet Union and 14 Armstrong Albemarles were ferried from Errol to Moscow via Sweden in 1943.

The night were becoming lighter & too dangerous to continue using that flying route so Britain and Soviet Union came up with an alternate route of flying from Hurn over Egypt & Iran to Moscow. Soviet pilot Kolesnikov and other Russian men were moved to Hurn in June 1943.

Anna was very happy to finally know the truth about her grandfather. On a recent visit to Montrose Air Station Heritage Center, she told Peter’s story to curator Dr. Dan Paton. Dan was delighted and will host the special exhibition.

Dan said that it was known that the Russian Foreign Minister Molotov landed at RAF base at Tealing near Dundee when he visited the United Kingdom. ‘We had always assumed that the Russians had trained at RAF Tealing’ Dan said. He also added that little had been known about this mysterious aspect of the WWII.

Dan mentioned that Relations between British & Russian Government had been often strained despite being allies. ‘But Anna immediately impressed me with the amount of research she carried out’ he further added.

Anna said ‘Peter was a remarkable pilot whose flying career started in the 1930s when aviation turned out to be a national passion in Russia’. She said that one of his pre war works had been the filming of 1939 Russian film The Courage. The Courage was about a brave pilot who performed amazing aerobatics and was filmed by the cameraman sitting next to Peter flying above mountain peaks.

‘My grandfather’s presence was always cherished at home and now his life story and stories of his fellow airmen will be remembered’ she added.
Video story: Documentary on Operation Barbarossa; the German assaults & the Russian fight-back during WWII

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE