Last great ace
I want to tell about the life of a man with whom a journalistic fate once brought me together. About a man in whom self-esteem and absolute inner freedom were combined with responsibility and duty. About a man who had the courage to follow his destiny, and neither the totalitarian system, nor the war, nor insurmountable circumstances, nor fools, nor roads prevented him from doing this. Twice Hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel-General Vitaly Ivanovich Popkov was a great ace of World War II, one of the ten best fighter pilots of the USSR and the entire anti-Hitler coalition. On his official account – 47 enemy aircraft shot down, another 13 were shot down in group battles with his participation. 47 plus 13! But this story is not only about downed Junkers, Focke-Wulfs and Phantoms…
Senior Stalin, oven and glider
Vitaly Ivanovich Popkov was born in 1922 in Moscow, in Nizhny Kislovsky Lane, almost opposite of which, in the garage of the Central Executive Committee, located in the Manezh building, his father worked as a driver and Chekist. Actually, in this garage, among the wheels, engines, in the lubricant and the smell of gasoline, Vitalik spent his childhood. Then the parents were sent on a secret special mission to Tehran, and the boy was sent to the government orphanage in Gagra for this time. There he met Vasya Stalin and his friend Timur Frunze.
Vasya was a year older than Vitalik, and he had a real oven, from which the children took turns shooting at sparrows. Vitalik did it especially well. Several times he met Vasya’s father Joseph Vissarionovich. The elder Stalin planted trees and always carried chocolates in his pockets. He walked around the territory of the dacha and ordered: plant such a tree here, here it is, and you, boy, candy … And he also checked the lessons with Vasya and Timur, these kids were always afraid and prepared in advance – they wrote “swords” on their hands (that is, cheat sheets) . At the time of the exams, the oven went to Vitalik in full possession.
Fighter Vitaly Popkov
Fighter Vitaly Popkov
Photo from the personal archive of Peter Kamenchenko
In Gagra, Vitalik glued together his first aircraft model, and there he made his first flight on a non-powered glider. Gliders were dragged high into the mountains on bulls, and then launched into the sky with the help of a rubber catapult. At the age of 12, Vitalik Popkov became a glider pilot, made long independent flights over the Black Sea. And at the age of 15, he already flew the U-2, which Comrade Stalin presented to Nestor Argunia, the director of state dacha No. 3, and Vasya begged for it for the orphanage.
After that, the fate of Vitalik Popkov was predetermined. He could only become a pilot and no longer imagined himself as someone else. And when the film “Fighters” with Mark Bernes and Nikolai Kryuchkov was released on the screens of the country, the desire to be a pilot grew into the belief that a real pilot can only be a fighter. At 17, Vitaly Popkov entered the Chuguev Military Aviation School and graduated with a fantastic 1941 graduation, among other 59 future Heroes of the Soviet Union.