Military Review

The Seven Brave: The First Heroes of the Soviet Union

The Seven Brave: The First Heroes of the Soviet Union

How are the fates of the Soviet pilots who were the first to receive the highest honorary title of the USSR?

The first Heroes of the Soviet Union - seven people - were, naturally, pilots. In young Soviet Russia, struggling to become one of the leaders of the industrial world, the attitude towards aviation was special. It became for the pre-war USSR what cosmonautics-for the post-war: a romantic dream of mastering a new living space. After all, the country itself was largely an attempt to realize the dream of a new, previously unknown life. So where else to rave about heaven, if not in such a world ?!

The same romantic dream, only slightly inferior to the dream of the sky, was the idea of ​​mastering the maritime spaces, and the culmination, the simultaneous embodiment of both of these ideas, was the work of mastering the Russian North. And the fact that the pilots of the polar aviation, who rescued the participants of the most daring polar expedition of the first half of 1930, became the first Heroes of the Soviet Union, is absolutely nothing strange. On the contrary, it would be surprising if it turned out differently if the first were not the pilots who took the crew and passengers of the sunken steamer Chelyuskin to the Great Land.

Seven heroes of the Chelyuskin epic

The greatest heroism for which the highest award of the USSR was instituted would not have been possible without the greatest catastrophe. She was the first and last voyage of the steamboat "Chelyuskin". 11 March 1933, he was launched under the name "Lena", 19 June renamed "Chelyuskin" in honor of the legendary Russian explorer of the North Semyon Chelyuskin, and July 16 went hiking on the Northern Sea Route.

In one navigation, Chelyuskin had to go from Murmansk to Vladivostok, the future port of registry, and thus prove that such trips are possible. Let not alone, but with the support of icebreakers, but possible. This was important for a country that is gaining industrial momentum: the Northern Sea Route saved substantial forces and funds on the delivery of cargo to the Far East. Alas, the expedition actually proved the opposite: without serious icebreaking support and without specially built ships for the Arctic, it is impossible to count on success during one navigation.

23 September 1933 of the year, after two months of sailing, the Chelyuskin finally covered the ice, and on February 13 of the 1934, the ice crushed the steamer, and it sank within two hours. But the victim of the disaster was a single person. The expedition manager Boris Mogilevich, who left the ship among the latter (along with captain Vladimir Voronin and expedition leader Otto Schmidt), was crushed by a deck cargo that fell from the mounts. Another 104 man managed to safely land on the ice with all the equipment necessary for wintering and began to wait for help from the mainland.

It was quite clear that the only way to quickly evacuate the Cheluskians was to take them off by air. It was pointless to send another steamer to help: it was a long time and there was no guarantee that it would be able to reach it earlier than ice would break under the ziggers. In order to guarantee the success of the rescue operation, seven of the most experienced pilots of the newly emerging polar aviation were attracted to the flights: Mikhail Vodopyanov, Ivan Doronin, Nikolai Kamanin, Anatoly Lyapidevsky, Sigismund Levanevsky, Vasily Molokov and Mauritius Slepnev - the future first Heroes of the Soviet Union.

The first 12 people were evacuated on 5 March by ANT-4 Anatoly Lyapidevsky. The second time, it was only 7 of April that reached the Chelyuskinites, and within six days of 24 flights, all the winterers were taken to the mainland, to the Chukotka village of Vankarem. Evacuation ended April 13. Three days later, the Supreme Council established a new highest award of the USSR - the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, and four days later, on April 20, it was awarded to seven polar pilot. Each of them deserves a short but separate story - in the order in which all seven of them were given a certificate of conferring the highest degree of distinction.

The very first: Anatoly Lyapidevsky (diploma and the Gold Star Medal No. 1)

Anatoly Lyapidevsky, who was honored with the highest honor - to be the first among the first Heroes of the Soviet Union, was one of the youngest (younger than him, and then only for a year, only Kamanin) participants of the legendary seven. He came to aviation in the 1927 year, after graduating from the Leningrad Military Theoretical School of the Air Force, and then the Sevastopol Military School of Naval Pilots.

Anatoly Lyapidevsky. Photo: р

In April, 1933, retired Lyapidevsky, went to work in civil aviation. At first he flew a flight pilot in the Far East, and then asked to be transferred to the just-organized Air Service Directorate of the Northern Sea Route Directorate - polar aviation. Less than a year after 29 failed sorties in a blizzard and 5 snowstorm in March 1934, Anatoly Lyapidevsky was the first of the pilots of the rescue team who were lucky to find the Chelyuskinites and land on a tiny piece of even ice cleared by winterers: total 150 on 450XXX

The pilot did not imagine that this first flight, for which he had evacuated all ten women and two children — all “weak” winterers, so to speak — would be his last in the epic. In preparation for the second flight to the Chelyuskinites, the Lyapidevsky plane during the flight from Whalen to Vankarem, where the headquarters of the rescue operation was located, made an emergency landing in the ice, undermining the landing gear. The crew was rescued by the Chukchi who saw the landing plane. He managed to repair and raise only 25 April to the sky. So what about the fact that he became the first in stories The hero of the Soviet Union, Lyapidevsky learned five days later: after the emergency landing, the radio did not work.

The youngest: Nikolai Kamanin (Diploma and Gold Star Medal No. 2)

The second Hero of the Soviet Union was the youngest of the "magnificent seven". In order to become a cadet of the Leningrad military-theoretical school of the Air Force in 1927, Kamanin had to gossip and add an extra year to himself. They believed him, and the dream of the Vladimir boy about the sky began to come true. A year later, Kamanin graduated from school in Leningrad and entered the Borisoglebsk military aviation school of pilots, and from 1929 he began service in light bombing aircraft in the Far East. And in five years I have earned myself such an excellent reputation that when Moscow received an order to send a detachment of military pilots from the Far East to participate in the rescue of the Chelyuskin people, there were no other candidates except Kamanin.

Nikolai Kamanin. Photo:

A detachment of pilots, to which Vasily Molokov entered, on the P-5 light bombers reached Vankarem for a month and a half! Everything resisted: the weather, and the equipment not prepared for use in polar conditions ... Only people did not let down. As a result, having lost two planes, Kamanin’s squadron reached Vankarem and from 7 on April began to evacuate Chelyuskinites. On the first day, Kamanin and Molokov took six people out of the camp to the mainland, putting three passengers into the cockpit, where one observer was normally stationed. In total, the youngest of the hero pilots managed to evacuate a 34 man to Vankar - this is the second most effective indicator among all seven pilots.

The most productive: Vasily Molokov (diploma and the Gold Star Medal No. 3)

Vasily Molokov began his army service in the Russian imperial navy in 1915 in the Baltic, and after the revolution he managed to combine conscription service with vocation service, becoming a mechanic in naval aviation. In 1921, Molokov graduated from the Samara school of sea pilots and returned to the place where he began his service - in the Baltic.

Vasily Molokov. Photo:

After 10 years, he went to the reserve, he worked as a pilot on passenger lines in Siberia, and in 1932 he became one of the first polar pilots. In 1933, Molokov already commands a squadron unit within the Air Service Directorate of the Northern Sea Route Directorate, and in March 1934, when Chelyuskin dies, receives an order to join the squad Nikolai Kamanin. The participation of Molokov, as Kamanin himself recalled, seriously helped the detachment: Molokov knew the insidious character of the North well and knew how to fly in arctic conditions. It was not by chance that he became the most productive pilot of the “magnificent seven”: in total, Molokov evacuated Chelyuskites on his P-5 39! For example, April 11 Molokov four flights took 20 people - five at a time. To do this, he had to plant people not only in the cockpit of the observer, but also in the winged parachute boxes - half meter-long plywood "cigars", where you could only lie down, bending your knees.

Most Romantic: Sigismund Levanevsky (Diploma and Gold Star Medal No. 4)

The biography of Sigismund Levanevsky is romantic even for such a romantic time as the first years of Soviet Russia. A native of St. Petersburg, a Pole by blood, he became a Red Guard in October 1917 and took an active part in the revolutionary events. Then there was the Civil War, the fight against the bandits in Dagestan and the work of the assistant manager in the aeronautical detachment in Petrograd. From there, in 1923, the year of Levanevsky was sent to study at the Sevastopol military school of naval pilots, to which he ... was late! He had to work for almost a year in the customary position of a farm manager in the same school in order to still enter the next year. However, the school did not regret it: Levanevsky quickly became one of the best cadets, and then, after serving in the line units, he returned there as an instructor pilot.

Sigismund Levanevsky. Photo: V.Mikosh / RIA News

Qualification helped Levanevsky among the first to join the pilots of the Air Service Directorate of the General Directorate of the Northern Sea Route: he worked there since the spring of 1933. And it is completely logical that he, as an experienced pilot, was attracted to the rescue of the Chelyuskinites. But even here the romantic biography of Levanevsky manifested itself. He became the only one of the first Heroes of the Soviet Union who, during the rescue operation ... did not evacuate a single person! In February, 1934, along with pilot Mauritius Slepnev and George Ushakov, an authorized government commission, sent him to the United States to purchase the missing multi-seat Consolidated Fleetster jets. 29 March 1934, at the height of the Slepnev rescue operation on the same plane, and Levanevsky and Ushakov on the other flew from the American Nome to Vankar. But only Slepnev flew there. Levanevsky, due to severe icing, made a forced landing, crashing the plane. But he still delivered the head of the operation to the destination, albeit on foot.

Of all the seven first Heroes of the Soviet Union, it was Levanevsky who did not live even before the start of the Great Patriotic War. However, the finale of his biography was more than romantic. 12 August 1937, he went on a DB-A plane with a crew of five and went to the trans-arctic flight Moscow-Fairbanks. The next day, the plane with the hull number H-209 disappeared, and the mystery of his disappearance has not been solved to this day ...

Most Professional: Mauritius Slepnev (Diploma and Gold Star Medal No. 5)

The profession of a military pilot, Mauritius Slepnev, began to master before all other members of the "magnificent seven" - during the First World War. He was called up for service as early as 1914, a year later he graduated from the school of ensigns, and in 1917, he graduated from the Gatchina flight school and served as a squadron commander with the rank of captain. However, Slepnev accepted the revolution immediately and unconditionally, participating in it as the commander of the Red Guard of the Luga district of Petrograd.

Mauritius Slepnev. Photo:

Then there were commanding positions in the nascent Red Air Force, and from 1925 onwards, work in a civilian fleet with a military reserve (with regular performance of purely military tasks). From 1931, Slepnev began flying in the Arctic: he became a pilot at the same time with Levanevsky as the pilot of the Air Service Directorate of the Main Department of the Northern Sea Route. Together, they were sent to the United States for Consolidated Fleetster nine-seater aircraft. Having safely flown from Nome to Vankarem (hitting a blizzard due to which the plane began to ice over, Slepnev, unlike Levanevsky, did not break further, but returned and flew out the next day), he took out of the camp on April 3 five chelyuskintsev. And on April 12, it was Slepnev who was entrusted with another difficult task: to deliver the seriously ill Otto Schmidt from Vankarem to the Alaskan Nome and at the same time return home aircraft mechanics Clyde Armstedt and William Lavery (the first was a mechanic on a Levanevsky plane, the second was Slepnev, but both flew on a blind man, since the head of the operation, Ushakov, was flying in Levanevsky’s car)

Most stubborn: Mikhail Vodopyanov (Diploma and Gold Star Medal No. 6)

Mikhail Vodopyanov came to aviation later than the rest of the "magnificent seven". However, this is how to count. Formally, he graduated from the Dobrolet flight school only in 1928 (which later became Aeroflot). But back in the 1918 year, Vodopyanov, who volunteered for the Red Army, served as a fuel carrier in the Ilya Muromets airship division in Lipetsk! And it took ten years to return after demobilization to the planes that hit the nineteen-year-old youth from Lipetsk.

Mikhail Vodopyanov. Photo:

After this, Vodopyanov’s summer career went uphill with confidence. First - the pilot "Dobrolet", who participated in the fight against locusts in Central Asia, then - the pioneer of the passenger route to Sakhalin. From 1931 of the year - the pilot of the Pravda flight unit, which delivered the matrix of the main newspaper of the USSR to the largest cities, primarily beyond the Urals. And then there was a test flight from Moscow to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, an accident on Lake Baikal and the hardest injuries, after which the pilot only had 36 (!) Stitches on his head. With such injuries not only in rescuers, Chelyuskin citizens could not be taken to civil aviation! But Mikhail Vodopyanov got his way: he was included in the composition of the participants in the rescue operation and was assigned to participate in the haul of three aircraft - two PS-3 and one P-5 - from Khabarovsk to Vankar. Together with Vodopyanov, the pilots flew Ivan Doronin and Viktor Galyshev, who commanded the flight. Overcoming 6000 kilometers, a troika of pilots made it to Anadyr, where the engine failed at the Galyshev aircraft. Only Vodopyanov flew to Vankarem and Doronin followed him. During the three flights to the Chelyuskin team, Vodopyanov took out a 10 man, proving that he had not for nothing insisted on being included in the rescue squad. Incidentally, he was also a participant in the last flight to the 13 ice floe of April - along with Nikolai Kamanin and Vasily Molokov.

Most Experienced: Ivan Doronin (Diploma and Gold Star Medal No. 7)

As Doronin himself admitted to his comrades in the Chelyuskin epic, he, a native of the Saratov province, “did not travel by train or ship” until 16 years. But after sixteen years of age I scored my own with a vengeance. According to the Komsomol voucher, Ivan went to rebuild the navy and ended up in Leningrad - first at the courses of naval technicians, and then at the naval school. But soon he traded one ocean for another: in 1924, Doronin achieved that he be seconded to the Yegoryev Aviation Technical School, from which he was transferred to the Sevastopol military school of sea pilots.

Ivan Doronin. Photo:

Five years later, Ivan Doronin left the army and began working as a civilian pilot, mastering the Siberian and Far Eastern routes. Or rather, not so much mastering, as paving. In his service record for 1934, the first flight along the Irkutsk-Ust-Srednekan route and participation in the polar expedition to the Kara Sea were listed. And in the summer book it was recorded that in the nine years of operation Doronin had flown 300 000 kilometers without a single accident!

It was all the more offensive to him, the most experienced pilot, who, together with Mikhail Vodopyanov, broke into Vankar from Khabarovsk for 6000 kilometers, to have an accident on the first flight to Chelyuskin! And through no fault of his own: when landing, the PS-3 aircraft ski, on which Doronin was flying, stumbled upon icy ice struck during the night, swerved to the side, hit another one and broke. The plane stopped powerlessly right on the icy airfield ... The car was fairly quickly put in order, but during the Chelyuskin epic, Doronin managed to make only one flight and take out two people. This, however, did not affect the decision to assign him the title of Hero of the Soviet Union - among the other seven heroes.

Five years in anticipation of the "Golden Star"

The decree introducing the title of Hero of the Soviet Union did not provide for any additional insignia, except for the diploma of the USSR Central Election Commission on awarding the title. True, the first Heroes, along with the diploma, were awarded the highest award at that time — the Order of Lenin. Two years later, this practice was approved by a decree of the newly elected Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and three years later, in 1939, the own distinction of the Hero of the Soviet Union title, the Gold Star medal, appeared. Since by that time 122 had already been awarded the highest distinction, the medals were awarded, so to speak, in hindsight, but strictly following the order in which titles were awarded. Accordingly, the Gold Star Medal No. 1 was awarded to the holder of the diploma No. 1 - Anatoly Lyapidevsky, and further on the list. Of the participants in the “magnificent seven”, only Sigismund Levanevsky was personally unable to receive the award: by that time he had been missing for two years.

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  1. Denis
    Denis 26 July 2015 07: 37
    Of the pilots, there was still M.S.Babushkin on Sh-2. He also participated
    The Shavrushka, circled by factory test pilots, was boarded up in a packing box and sent to Murmansk. Soon, after the train brought it here, from the west, rounding the Scandinavian peninsula, a ship arrived in Murmansk. On board, painted black, gold burned bright letters, denoting his name: "Chelyuskin." On the captain’s bridge - captain P.I. Voronin and expedition chief academician O.Yu. Schmidt. There was a very long road ahead: Chelyuskin had to go around the country from the north, to become the first non-icebreaking steamer that would pass the Northern Sea Route. A very difficult expedition was coming. To facilitate it, they loaded the Sh-2 amphibious aircraft, which first set off for polar swimming, aboard the Chelyuskin. When assembled, it was placed on the bow of the ship, it could be easily launched and just as easily and conveniently raised from the water to the deck. Preparing for the flight took no more than an hour. A miniature amphibian with folded wings occupied no more space on the deck than a boat.
    On March 31, he tried to break through from Alaska to Chukotka Slepnev, but due to bad weather he returned; he only got to Wellen on April 5. By this time, the population of the ice camp had decreased by two people: on April 2, pilot Babushkin and mechanic Valavin flew off the ice in their W-2. Those who watched them experienced several unpleasant moments: “Still looking through binoculars, we saw that one of the skis of the plane was hanging. The entire population of Vankarem, who was observing the landing car, froze in anticipation of a catastrophe. It seemed that the hanging ski would inevitably plow into the snow and the plane would camouflage. However, at the very last moment, when the car lost speed, the ski straightened, and the plane glided easily to the Vancarem airdrome. ”
    According to Ushakov, “a few minutes later the car was surrounded by spectators. The view ... it was so unusual that many people involved in its inspection forgot to say hello to the arrivals ... Babushkina’s plane, which made its way aboard the Chelyuskin from Murmansk, unloaded several times among the ice and again plunged aboard the ship, often suffered damage. He received no less damage in the ice camp. The plane was repaired either on board the Chelyuskin, or in even more difficult conditions of the ice camp. The nose was all broken and rebuilt from plywood and taped. The racks supporting the planes are broken and fastened with thin twine. The chassis was also tied with twine, although of a larger diameter. The general view of the aircraft was more like the famous Trishkin caftan than a modern car. ”
    The Arctic “air wolf” Babushkin, who flew the most over the polar ice in the harsh and capricious conditions of the polar night, tried to return immediately to the camp. But given the state of his car and its low payload, even in that situation they did not begin to risk it. Ushakov appointed Babushkin as the head of the Vankarem airfield, and his plane was left in case of local flights and a possible hike on the dogs to indicate the direction of the party and keep in touch with it.
    The flight mechanic Valavin sits on the amphibian W-2
    amphibian W-2
  2. midshipman
    midshipman 26 July 2015 07: 55
    Creating aviation systems, and then managing their release and implementation in the country's Armed Forces, I was fortunate enough to meet and work with many Heroes of the Soviet Union. A.V. I first met Lyapidevsky at OKB A.I. Mikoyan. He worked there as a consultant. Of course, he did not have to advise anything, but the OKB respected him. This was the first Hero of the Soviet Union.
    Since 1964, on all fighters of the USSR Air Force, I have introduced radio navigation systems and automatic landing systems. Then he created and combat weapons. I have the honor.
  3. moskowit
    moskowit 26 July 2015 09: 21
    Heroic time, heroic people! My Mom, she is now 92 years old, the first Heroes still remembers everyone by name. Feat and heroism have always been admired.
    In our childhood and youth, too, there were heroes. I also remember the names of the first ten astronauts and the sequence of their flights so far ...
  4. avt
    avt 26 July 2015 11: 09
    But whatever one may say, Sigismund got into this cage solely because of Stalin's good disposition to him. As you wish, but he did not work for the Hero, of course it was necessary to note zeal, but to be honest - the maximum "Red Banner"
  5. Shadowcat
    Shadowcat 26 July 2015 11: 38
    More expensive than gold.