Mysterious Flights Over the Kremlin

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In the vicinity of Moscow, the night of 9/10 February 1943 was full of mysterious events. About 19.20 soldiers at Observation Post No. 2 of the 1204th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, located near the village of Chernaja Gryaz on the Leningrad highway, heard the faint noise of an engine. The observers took it for a car on the road. But then there was a series of explosions and machine-gun fire. Later it turned out that several other observers had seen a plane without any identification markings. By the sound of the engine, they had identified it as a Soviet R-5 biplane. No hostile aircraft could possibly be flying just 6km from the suburbs of Moscow Khimki and only 25km from the Kremlin itself! Only the crew of a searchlight position of the 251st Independent Anti-Aircraft Artillery Division suggested from the engine sound that it might be a German Hs 126. Seven high-explosive bombs were dropped by it, as a result of which houses in the village of Elino were destroyed and troops from a unit marching along the Leningrad highway were also killed or injured.

In fact, the aircraft was an He 46 of 1.Behelfsst LK Ost. This squadron was a German response to the actions of the harassing Soviet U-2 aircraft, which annoyed German troops every night. These biplanes flew at low level, suddenly appearing from behind the trees and dropped small bombs on the Germans’ billets. German biplanes repaid the Russians in the same coin. 1.Behelfsst LK Ost (in summer 1943 renamed 1./Stoer/LF6) used a variety of older aircraft such as the Ar 66, Go 145, He 46 and Fw 58.

In 1943, Moscow’s air defences were the most powerful in the Soviet Union. The Moscow PVO front consisted of fifteen anti-aircraft artillery divisions (ZenAD), three anti-aircraft machine-gun divisions, four anti-aircraft searchlight divisions and two VNOS divisions. They were armed with 1,447 guns, 30 fire-direction stations and several radar stations. The 6th Fighter Aviation Corps (6th IAK) consisted of 450 aircraft, including the British Hurricane, and the American Bell P-39 Airacobra and Curtiss P-40. But these forces were formidable only in the daytime. At night, the airspace around Moscow was in complete chaos. Many Russian bombers were carrying out air attacks on German-held territory. Despite strict prohibitions and penalties, Russian pilots regularly violated their instructions, flying directly over the cities and even the Kremlin. They often lost their bearings and dropped bombs on friendly towns and villages. For example, on the evening of 15 May, a Pe-8 heavy bomber dropped seven high-explosive bombs near the village of Sinitza, and an Il-4 bomber was caught in the searchlights over Moscow, but the pilot of the fighter sent to intercept it managed to correctly identify the aircraft before he opened fire. The next night, a Russian plane accidentally dropped an incendiary bomb on the village of Kudrino, resulting in the destruction of seven buildings. And such events occurred regularly.

This chaos was added to by the Luftwaffe. In the Moscow area night reconnaissance Do 217s of 2.(F)/Nacht, Bf 110 night fighters from NJG100 and the ‘disturbing bombers’ of 1./Stoer/LF6 all regularly flew. The Russians monitored their airspace, but in complete darkness could not correctly identify all aircraft. All this allowed the Luftwaffe to deliver agents directly to the vicinity of the Soviet capital.

A typical story took place in the Moscow region on the night of 2/3 May 1943. At 23.45 near the city of Aleksin a twin-engined aircraft was seen heading north-east towards the city of Kashira. VNOS posts confidently identified it as ‘one of our Il-4s’. Flying along the bend of the Oka river and past the city of Kolomna, it passed near the town of Yegoryevsk and turned to the north. There was nothing suspicious about this: almost every night dozens of Soviet bombers returned to their airfields around Moscow. Flying directly over Moscow was strictly forbidden, so all the crews had to go around it in an arc. But when the strange plane reached the city of Orekhovo-Zuyevo, it, later identified as an ‘Li-2’ (a licensed Soviet copy of the American DC-3 (C-47) Dakota), turned back, followed the same course to the south-west and at 01.22 retired towards the city of Orel.

Later it was reported that in the area of Gubino (east of Orekhovo-Zuyevo) one high-explosive and five incendiary bombs had been dropped by this ‘Li-2’. A few hours after that it became known that near the town of Petushki two agents who had been dropped from the lone plane had been arrested. In their testimony, they explained that the plane really was a Dakota.

Another flight by the German Dakota was recorded on the night of 12/13 May. At 23.10 it had attached itself to a flight of Russian bombers returning from a raid and was 10km south of the city of Kashira, north of Koloma. Then it separated from the bombers and, passing south of Yegoryevsk, disappeared to the east. At 02.11 it was sighted again, north of Ryazan, then it flew between the cities of Kolomna and Kashira, over Tarusa and Detchino and on into German-held territory. Given its long flight in Soviet airspace, it had probably delivered agents and saboteurs somewhere in the Gorky region. The headquarters of the Soviet air defences concluded that this captured aircraft was being used for secret missions. The crew obviously had knowledge of Russian air operation and routes, and knew the terrain.

At 00.57 on 26 May two agents were dropped from the German plane near the city of Pogoreloe Gorodishhe. In the morning one of them surrendered to the chairman of the local village council in the morning, handing over weapons and explosives given to him by the German secret service. The second agent was arrested by the council chairman and a gunner from the anti-aircraft battery near the village of Ivashkovo.

On the night of 3/4 July, flights by Bf 110s and Hs 126s were recorded over Moscow (as the Russians always identified the He 46s and Go 145s of 1./Stoer/LF6). In addition, a suspicious aircraft identified as a ‘captured Il-4 bomber’ was spotted. It flew over Airfield No 3 where it was illuminated by searchlights, immediately firing a flare signalling ‘I am a friendly aircraft’. Russian night fighters were unable to intercept any of the targets. At 00.14 near the village of Ochnikovo the mysterious aircraft dropped a group of three agents, one of whom in the morning surrendered to the Soviet authorities. The other two fled, but were later arrested by NKGB officers.

On the night of 5/6 July, agents disguised as Red Army captains were dropped from an aircraft (again identified as an ‘Il-4’) in several places (such as the village of Duhovka and Konstantinovka station), some of whom were detained ‘in hot pursuit’.

Late in the evening on 27 July, six aircraft identified by the Russians as ‘Me-110s’ (Bf 110s), conducted reconnaissance and bombing in the areas of Gzhatsk, Vyazma and Temkino. North-east of Vyazma alone fifty high-explosive bombs were dropped on various targets. The 263th OZAD opened fire fourteen times, expending almost 1,000 shells. Between 23.10 and 02.17 an aircraft, again identified as an ‘Il-4’, flew along the route Sychevka–Novo-Zavidovo–Pereslavl-Zalessky–Alexandrov–Dmitrov–Volokolamsk–Sychevka and then to Smolensk. In the forest north-east of Moscow the next group of agents was delivered.

On the night of 27/28 July, another group of agents was delivered from an unidentified aircraft south-east of the city of Ryazan (south-east of Moscow). One of them was arrested at noon the next day near the village of Bogdanov (17km south-east of Ryazan). When caught the ‘Red Army soldier’ was found with a radio, a revolver and 43,500 roubles. Some saboteurs were arrested immediately at the time of the sabotage. However, the object of the diversion raises a question about the intellectual suitability, both of the agent and his teachers in the intelligence school. On 27 July the commander of one of the VNOS posts, Makarov, arrested a German agent who was trying to set fire to a field of rye with an incendiary bomb.