April 15, 1951
We begin our tale around a table where pilots in North Korean uniforms drink vodka and are playing cards. One of the pilots, Andrei Orlov shuffles the cards and he is telling a story.
Inside his cockpit above his flight speedometer is a picture of his smiling wife. "Americans one o'clock," the excited voice of Flight Lieutenant Malchnikov over the net.
"Flight Lieutenant Malchnikov you are to only speak Chinese."
His fellow pilots laugh throughout the net. Andrei takes one last look at Dasha. He kisses the picture and then makes the sign of the cross in the orthodox way. "Red wolves on me!"
His squadron along with 2 other sister squadrons, 30 Mig-15s total intercept an American bomber group over the Yalu River. The Americans outnumber the Russians 3 to 1. A brutal aerial combat ensues. In the melee, American F-48 Thunderjet strafes the wings of Andrei's wingman, Sasha Lugovskaya. Lugovskaya separates from fight and heads back to bases deep into Manchuria. The Russians shoot down 12 B-29 bombers and the bomber group. Andrei orders his men to return back to base. Then he sees F-80 shooting star fly over top of him and decides to pursue the lone aircraft to claim his 15th air to air kill.
He checks his fuel gauge, he is running low on fuel. His eyes lock with the eyes of his wife, Dasha smiling proudly.
If Andrei knocks this aircraft out of the sky, he will be a three time war ace. Although Andrei's Mig-15 can quickly overtake the wandering aircraft, he decides to conserve his fuel and slowly make up the distance. The Shooting Star nears the big board blue waters of the Bay of Korea, Andrei's thumb moves a quarter of an inch to the button for the 23mm cannons. The Shooting Star limply glides seemingly unaware of its impeding fate.
Then 50 caliber bullets rock Andrei's aircraft with direct hits into his fuselage. He is sitting duck over the ocean far away from his support, alone and wounded. Two F-84 Thunderjets blaze away in hot pursuit. Andrei climbs steeply in a rolling climb evading the bullets of the Thunderjets. Andrei's aircraft quickly evades a deadly fate easily outclassing the Americans. They call off the chase. Andrei's expert flying thrusts his body from side to side the force of the aircraft throwing him like bouncer against two brick walls. Andrei spies his dashboard where his wife's picture lies. The dashboard shakes and rattles. His aircraft begins to shake it cannot withstand altitudes exceeding 50,000 feet and Andrei himself leveling his aircraft cannot breathe. He dives painfully his aircraft harder and harder to control as the joystick stiffens.
He can breathe but his aircraft is harder and harder to control. Lost, he looks back and he sees he is leaking fuel and hydraulic fluid. It is only a matter of time before he looses control of his aircraft. He decides to bail out. He pulls his wife's picture and kisses it, then tucks it inside his jacket. He reaches for the ejection handle. But the explosive bolts malfunction and debris flies everywhere and
Andrei looses consciousness.
Meanwhile at the Soviet base, General Loshka Petrov stands silently and grimly as he counts the planes. The political officer, General Poverotoff directs two camera crews - one taking pictures of Loshka and the other watching the swept winged MiG-15's land gracefully.
"Twenty nine" Loshka says grimly.
Lugovskaya walks up to the General. Loshka asks, "Were there any Mayday calls over the net?"
"No, Comrade General."
"Go tight on the General's eyes." Poverotoff directs his cameraman. Loshka makes eye contact with Povertoff before the Cameraman can refocus and walks away but in front of his second camera man who is filming the the final aircraft landing.
"You blocked my shot Loshka!"
Loshka mutters walking away. "My apologies Comrade General, I have to write a condolence letter to Squadron Commander's wife and tell her that she will be a widow."
Loshka then turns to Poverotoff. "Instead of telling Dasha that her damned fool husband of hers got himself killed trying to be the Hero of the Soviet Union over Korean Water. Did you know one of my pilots shot himself in the head rather than be taken alive by the Americans? Did you know that? His name was Sergey Andreivich, he must twenty five years old. I did not ask him shoot himself. I would have let him get captured and sit out the war with the Americans. You asked him to kill himself and he did. I wrote that letter to his mother. Another one of my pilots was shot down and strafed by his men. You remember him Major Lugovskaya, you strafed him. His name of Captain Antoly Illych. I wrote that letter too. So what will I tell Dasha Yurivna? Do I have to tell her that he died in a training accident? He lost control of his aircraft while reading Pushkin? Or while that his service revolver accidentally discharged while he was on the toilet? Or that an anvil struck him in the head while he was tying his shoes. His wife and mine are very close so it better be good, because my Lana knows when I am lying."
Poverotoff's men break down their cameras.
"Loshka, look it's Andrei!" Lugovskaya points to a trail of faint smoke follow the little black dot that wobbles on the horizon.
Loshka and Lugovskaya strain to see it is indeed Andrei limping back to base.
Andrei explains, "I blacked out. I didn't know if I was in the air floating from my parachute or in the Worker's Paradise in the Sky. But Lenin's Ghost, I was in the cockpit of my aircraft losing altitude and speed. But I was in my bird and I control her. I lost fuel and all my hydraulic fluid. I knew I might have to belly land her but if only one of my wheels had come down. That would be difficult."
With both heels down, Andrei lands gracefully the entire fight wing swarms his aircraft. He gets out to a hero's welcome. He kisses his aircraft. "This is truly a soldier's airplane."
Money is on the table and the men place their bets. Lugovskaya opens the turn by playing one card face up - a seven. Malchnikov plays a King. Another Officer an Ace, causing Andrei to exclaim, "I am playing against myself."
He picks up the cards. Then Poverotoff arrives with a bottle of cognac in his hand. All the men stop what they are doing.
Poverotoff, "Congratulations from the People's Commissar on your great air victory today!"
He stands by the bar and beckons all to the bar to fill their glasses from his bottle. All of them reluctantly gather except for Andrei who instead pulls out his picture of his wife, he kisses it and makes the sign of the cross in the Orthodox way, re-shuffles the deck and plays solitaire drinking unhealthy shots of vodka in secession.
Poverotof fills the men's glasses liberally. A few drink the cognac behind his back and then place their empty glasses in front of him to be re-filled. No one in the wing makes a sound, he tries to make conversation with each pilot praising each of them saying, "12 Bombers have been destroyed. 3 dozen fighters, our allies are scooping up their crews, this is a great victory and potentially a great intelligence and propaganda crew! You have defeated the Americans!!!!"
"Our former allies," Andrei drinks.
Poverotoff smiles broadly, "And to our hero, Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Orlov who scored his 15th air to air kill. Our sources confirm Colonel Andrei Orlov shot down a F-80 Shooting Star piloted by Captain Antony Nelson over the Korean Bay. At the age 34, this makes Colonel Orlov the youngest 3 time fighter ace in Soviet history even though he violated direct orders not to fly over enemy waters for fear of losing our aircraft and hence our air superiority."
"Captain Nelson ditched his aircraft before I could get to him." He stood up. "I cannot confirm that he went down. I can confirm I didn't kill him or damage his plane. It flew fine the last I saw of it." Getting up and quitting his game of Solitaire in disgust, "No, Comrade General, I wouldn't want you to lie."
He walks over to the Poverotoff, "How about a toast to you Comrade Poverotoff?"
"Colonel Verusderoff, really . . . I"
"To the Blue Caps, you SMERSH men, you know I have nephew in the NKVD - a worthless boy - my brother Kostya's boy, Gerochka, Gerochka Kostantinovich. My brother was an ace! Kostya shot down six of the Germans - two of them in single combat. When the Luftwaffe shot him down, I requested to be transferred instead of languishing here as an instructor. But no, I languished here and Gerochka had no father. He is rotten to the core. Evil. Lazy. Worthless, not fit to break rocks in the Kolyma. Her mother wrote me, "What will happen to my son, a sniveling youth, I don't know where to turn to launch him in life. He is such a fool he doesn't want to study, barely got through three years of school, but then he joined you. How his situation changed!"
"Andryushka!" Loschka stepped in. The entire room snaps to attention except Poverotoff, technically his peer in rank. "Come here!"
Andrei left the bar and met Loschka in the hall. "Andryushka, you must come home. There's been an accident, your wife Dasha is in the hospital."