World War II is filled with incredible stories of soldiers who went to impossible odds in order to survive, but one of the more little known of the stories is the tale of a Soviet fighter pilot who stole a German plane in order to return home.
Axis armies, spearheaded by the German panzer divisions, had invaded the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. The Axis inflicted over four million casualties on the Soviet Red Army and penetrated deep into Russia, but fell short of capturing the capital city of Moscow due to the arrival of of the frigid Russian winter and critical Soviet reinforcements who arrived from Siberia to launch counterattacks on the German forces and drive them back.
By the spring of 1942, the frontlines had stabilized but the Germans still held the advantage and renewed new offensives. While these offensives were taking place, a Soviet fighter pilot by the last name of Kuzniecov was conducted a reconnaissance mission behind the German lines in an Ilushyin Il-2 aircraft. While returning home, he was ambushed by German fighters and crash landed over the town of Kalinin.
What happened next sounds like it’s out of a movie, but it really happened:
One of the German pilots who had shot Kuzniecov down landed his own plane near the crash site to collect souvenirs from the downed Soviet aircraft. Little did the German pilot know, however, but Kuzniecov had evacuated the cockpit of his plane and hid in the nearby woods.
The German pilot landed his Messerschmitt and approached the downed Il-2, when Kuzniecov made a run for the Messerschmitt. Before the German pilot could get to him, Kuzniecov had gotten into the cockpit of the Messerschmidt and took off.
The next issue, as you can imagine, is that the Soviet forces mistook the Messerschmitt with Kuzniecov in it for being an enemy aircraft and opened fire on him with anti-aicraft guns, but Kuzniecov still managed to land the plane and reveal he was a friendly to his comrades.
Kuzniecov was later awarded the USSR’s highest military honor in the form of the Hero of the Soviet Union title. Kuzniecov continued to fight in the war until 1944, when his eyes were blinded by enemy anti-aircraft fire while flying a new IL-2. Miraculously, he still managed to land the plane safely behind friendly lines despite his newly inflicted blindness.
What happened to Kuzniecov next remains largely unknown, but there’s no denying that his story is one of the most incredible in the war.