Monday, May 17, 2010

Monument to Soviet prisoners of war getting out of German concentration camp by plane

In Poltava unveiling of a monument Escape from the Hades took place, dedicated to the 65th anniversary of Victory over Nazism and a legendary escape of 10 Soviet prisoners of war by a German plane piloted by Mikhail Devyatayev from the concentration camp on the Uzedom Island in the Baltic Sea. The monument of almost two meters high and 1.5 tons of weight is unveiled in the vicinity of the aviators' town. The monument is made in Russia and handed over to Poltava within the frames of the project named the “Alley of Russian Glory”. All in all ten such monuments are to be installed on the birthplace of each of 10 heroes. In the result of search works carried out by Russian historians, relatives of eight participants in the escape were found. Among them, Mykhailo Yemets' son was found, now residing in city of Hadiach, Poltava region. On February 8, 1945, 10 Soviet prisoners of war captured bomber Henkel-111 and escaped from the concentration camp on the Island of Uzedom in the Baltic Sea, where the secret weapon of Germany was made - V-2-Vergeltungswaffe-2 rockets.
Mikhail Devyataev was an early entrant of World War II, destroying his first Ju-87 on 24 June 1941 just two days after Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Soon he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. On 13 July 1944 Devyataev was downed near Lvov over German-held territory and became a prisoner of war, held in the Łódź concentration camp. He made an attempt to escape on 13 August but was caught and transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Devyataev soon realised that his situation was perilous-as a Soviet pilot, he could expect extreme brutality; therefore, he managed to exchange identities with a dead Soviet infantryman. With his new identity, Devyataev was later transferred to a camp in Usedom to be a part of a forced labor crew working for the German missile program on the island of Peenemünde. Under hellish conditions, the prisoners were forced to repair runways and clear unexploded bombs by hand. Security was rigidly enforced with vicious guards and dogs, and there was little chance of escape. Even so, by February 1945, Devyataev concluded that, however remote, the chance of escape was preferable to certain death as a prisoner. Devyataev managed to convince three other prisoners (Sokolov, Krivonogov and Nemchenko ) that he could fly them to freedom. They decided to runaway in the dinnertime, when most of the guards were in the dining room. Sokolov and Nemchenko were able to create a work gang from Soviet citizens only. At noon of 8 February 1945, as the ten Soviet POWs, including Devyataev, were at work on the runway, one of the work gang, Ivan Krivonogov picked up a crowbar and killed their guard. Another prisoner, Peter Kutergun, quickly stripped off the guard's uniform and slipped it on. The work gang, led by the "guard", managed to unobtrusively take over the camp commandant's He 111 bomber and fly from the island. Devyataev piloted the aircraft. The Germans tried to intercept the bomber but without success. The aircraft was damaged by the Soviet air defences but managed to land in Soviet-held territory. The escapees provided important information about the German missile program, especially about the V-1 and V-2.
The NKVD did not believe Devyataev's story, arguing that it was impossible for the prisoners to take over an airplane without cooperation from the Germans. Thus, Devyataev was suspected of being a German spy and sent to a penal military unit along with the other nine men. Of the escapees, five died in action over the following months. Devyataev himself spent the remainder of the war in prison. Soviet authorities cleared Devyataev only in 1957, after the head of the Soviet space program Sergey Korolyov personally presented his case, arguing that the information provided by Devyataev and the other escapees had been critical for the Soviet space program. On 15 August of that year, Devyataev became a Hero of the Soviet Union, and a subject of multiple books and newspaper articles. He continued to live in Kazan, working as a captain of first hydrofoil passenger ships on the Volga.