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How the Russians and Americans Clashed in Air Combat: The "Accidental" Tragedy of 1944, to Which There Are Many Questions
How the Russians and Americans Clashed in Air Combat: The "Accidental" Tragedy of 1944, to Which There Are Many Questions

November 1944. The Second World War is drawing to a close. The USSR and the USA are reliable allies who helped each other. And suddenly - an air battle. American pilots attacked Soviet forces by mistake. This battle almost led to a full-fledged war between the two powers.

USSR and USA: if a friend turned out to be suddenly …

During World War II, the two superpowers actively cooperated. Soviet pilots visited allied military bases not only in the United States itself, but also in Italy and Iran. But there was still no full-fledged idyll. During the war, American pilots several times by mistake managed to attack Soviet troops. But these were all minor incidents that were attributed to chance and human factors. But the air battle, which took place on the afternoon of November 7, 1944, was out of this row.

November 8 began for Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin with a report by General Alexei Innokentyevich Antonov, who served as deputy chief of the General Staff. Antonov said that yesterday the Americans unexpectedly attacked Soviet units near the Yugoslav city of Nis. Stalin was furious with such a cynical "gift" on the twenty-seventh anniversary of the October Revolution and demanded a thorough investigation.

Details soon became clear. It turned out that American pilots suddenly opened fire on Soviet troops moving along the road from Niš to Royana. The main blow was taken by the 6th Guards Corps of the Third Ukrainian Front. The soldiers did not expect an attack. Everyone knew perfectly well that the Germans had been gone for a long time, only the allies remained. Played factor and holiday. Therefore, when planes appeared in the sky, no one suspected anything. The blow was so unexpected that in the first minutes the command was trite confused, not knowing what to do.

At first, the commanders and soldiers thought they were being attacked by the Germans. Where did they come from here, and in such numbers? Nobody knew the answer to these questions. But it soon became clear that the winged vehicles belonged to the main ally - the United States.

The Americans knew there were no Germans nearby. Accordingly, Stalin decided - the blow was made on purpose. But for what? The proceedings began at the highest level. The pilots were questioned. All as one declared that they were mistaken, or rather, “lost”. They say they confused Nis with some other city, so they had no idea that there were Soviet units here.

Whether this is true or not, now it is impossible to figure it out. But there is one curious nuance: the American Air Force bombed the unfortunate Nis several times, in which the Nazi troops were entrenched. At the same time, in a neighboring town called Novi Pazar, there was no enemy. And the Americans have never made a mistake with the aim of the attack. One single mistake occurred on the 7th of November 1944.

As soon as the Americans noticed the convoy moving along the road, Colonel Edwinson decided to launch an attack. Immediately, without reconnaissance, as if he was sure of the appearance of the enemy. Edvinson led two flights into battle. First of all, the Americans destroyed the staff transport at the beginning of the column, trucks and tanks. This first raid was fatal for the Soviet general Grigory Petrovich Kotov.

The second blow to the column was struck by the third star-striped link.Several trucks and an ambulance caught fire (later the pilots made excuses that they had not seen the red cross). Another surprising fact: at the time of the attack, the weather was good, no rain or fog.

Counter attack

Without exception, the entire personnel of the 770th Assault Aviation Regiment listened to the congratulatory speech of their commander for political training by the name of Seawood. And suddenly the pilots heard the sound of an air raid. Everyone knew that their own people were walking along the road, which meant that they were attacked. Soviet planes took off and headed towards the enemy. Soon the air defense systems located at the Nis airfield also rattled.

The pilots received information that the attack was being carried out by the Americans, followed by clear instructions. It said that you cannot open fire on your allies. It was necessary to explain to them somehow that they had made a mistake. But … one Soviet plane suddenly caught fire and began to descend rapidly. And the pilots of the USSR opened fire.

After a while, the Americans announced that as soon as they saw the planes with red stars, they ceased fire. The pilots even tried to signal to the Soviet pilots that they realized their mistake, but it was too late. And Edvinson recalled that he tried with all his might to prevent the battle, but the situation got out of control.

In fact, the aerial battle ended quickly. The pilot Nikolai Surneev (or Alexander Koldunov, it is not known for certain) approached one of the American planes and explained the situation with gestures. After that, the attack stopped. The winged aircraft of the United States amicably left the scene of the battle.

It would seem that this is the end. But no. Suddenly, several dozen more American aircraft appeared. But the Soviet pilots turned their cars in such a way that the guests would certainly see the stars on their wings allied to them. After that, the Americans flew back. Only then was the air battle officially over.

The Soviet side demanded an explanation in a more detailed form. But again the Americans announced the "unfortunate incident." And they were in no hurry with an official apology. All the blame was placed directly on the pilots. The official statement said that the pilots were supposed to attack a German convoy moving from Skopje to Pristina, but they were confused. They did not fly about two hundred kilometers to Skopje, saw the army and decided that they were already there. Naturally, the Soviet side did not believe this. The American pilots knew too well the Balkan territory to make such a ridiculous mistake. It became clear that the Stars and Stripes side began to probe the allies, because not far off was a new clash - now a geopolitical one. Germany was on the edge of the abyss. Already no forces could have saved her from defeat. And the Americans decided that it was time to start fighting for a sphere of influence.

Of course, the temptation was great to strike back. But Stalin did not do this. Another full-fledged war the Soviet Union could no longer pull, either morally or physically. Therefore, the incident was hushed up. And in mid-December of the same year, the Ambassador of the United States of America to the USSR, Averell Harriman, nevertheless made an official apology. They were accepted.

Since the fact of the air battle was immediately classified, there is no reliable data on the victims. According to the Americans, they destroyed four Soviet aircraft, while they themselves lost three. According to the unofficial Soviet version, five star-striped winged vehicles were shot down in the skies over Nis, and two of their own were lost.

Incidentally, this "accidental" battle was not the last. In May 1945, the soldiers of the USSR and the United States did not recognize each other and attacked. This happened during the crossing of the Elbe River. A full-fledged battle did not happen. Both sides quickly recognized the "mistake", so they lost several people killed and wounded.

In May 2015, the Serbian authorities in Niš (this city is now Serbian) inaugurated a monument dedicated to Soviet pilots who died in the November air battle.

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