On opening the memorial dedicated to Russian airmen in Errol
On Remembrance Day 11th November a memorial dedicated to Russian airmen will be unveiled in Britain, timed to the 75th Victory Anniversary year.
At the height of WWII the British Government gave the Soviet Union, which had been suffering a severe shortage of transport aircraft, twin-engine bombers ‘Albemarle’. A long night flight across the North Sea and enemy-occupied territories could be managed by ace-pilots only.
The top-secret mission of the State Defense Committee was entrusted to the hand-picked experienced crews of the Moscow Special Assignment Airgroup - an elite air division of the military transport aviation formed in June 1941 of the best civil airmen of the country to perform critical tasks for the High Command.
The Airgroup had delivered food to besieged Leningrad, performed massive airborne operations behind the enemy lines, supplied with ammunition armies trapped in the enemy circle near Vyazma and Rzhev, evacuated the wounded in the last days of Sevastopol defense, dropped parachute reconnaissance and brought aid to the Resistance hiding in the depth of the woods.
In early 1943 the Russian officers, in groups, were covertly flown to RAF Errol in the east of Scotland, where they joined RAF 305 Air Unit, specially created to train the crews and ferry the aircraft to Moscow.
The Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for International Cultural Cooperation Mikhail Shvidkoi: “Prior to their allied mission in Britain the airmen had taken part in the hardest battles of the Great Patriotic War, before the turning point at Stalingrad. Today they have become a symbol of the overall respect for the combat past of the countries who stood shoulder to shoulder in the war against the Nazism. The Errol Memorial is a result of the good will and selfless efforts of people from Russia and Britain sharing the same aspiration to pass on that memory to the future generations.’
The Memorial to be installed by the Village Church in the center of Errol is a natural rock of Shoksha crimson quartzite. It is the same stone which the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin Wall is lined with. The Hero-cities’ names inscribed in gold on the blocks going there along the memorial walkway correspond to the Airgroup’s combat operations. The Errol Stone is a work by a Karelian sculptor Aleksandr Kim. The plaque designed by Ivan Yudinkov, a grandson of one of the pilots, was cast at the Petrozavodsk Foundry.
Earlier at Khvoinaya Village, Novgorod region, where in autumn-winter 1941 the airmen had been based while supplying besieged Leningrad, a memorial plaque was unveiled, also cast by the Petrozavodsk craftsmen.
The history of the legendary Airgroup and the Russian-British allied operation ‘Albemarle’, became widely known after the release of the book ‘Special Assignment Airmen’ by Anna Belorusova, a granddaughter of pilot commander Pyotr Kolesnikov. On the same day, 11th November, in the hero’s native village Mitrofanovka, Voronezh region, his memorial museum will open.
Today the cargo ship with the Memorial Stone on board has sailed off St Petersburg and set course for a British port.