Mikhail Devyatayev

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Mikhail Devyatayev
Mikhail Devyatayev.jpg
Born8 July 1917
Torbeyevo, Russian Empire
Died24 November 2002(2002-11-24) (aged 85)
Kazan, Tatarstan
Allegiance Soviet Union
Service/branchSoviet Air Force
Years of service1938–1945
RankSenior lieutenant
Unit104th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsHero of the Soviet Union

Mikhail Petrovich Devyatayev (Russian: Михаил Петрович Девятаев; Moksha/Erzya: Михаил Петрович Девятаев; 8 July 1917 – 24 November 2002) was a Soviet fighter pilot known for his incredible escape from a Nazi concentration camp on the island of Usedom, in the Baltic Sea.

Early life and military career[edit]

Born in 1917 at Torbeyevo, Mikhail was the thirteenth child born to the family of a Mordovian peasant. In 1938 he graduated from a School of River Navigation (Речной Техникум) and worked as the captain of a small ship on the Volga. That same year he was conscripted into the Red Army and began education at a Chkalov Flying School, graduating in 1940.[1]

Devyataev was an early entrant of World War II, destroying his first Ju 87 on 24 June 1941 just two days after Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Soon he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. On 23 September he was seriously wounded (he was hit in his left leg). After a long stay in the hospital he was assigned to Po-2 unit and then to medical aviation. He resumed his duties as a fighter pilot after his meeting with the famous Soviet ace Aleksandr Pokryshkin in May 1944. Commander of an echelon with the 104th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment, Senior Lieutenant Devyatayev destroyed nine enemy planes.

Capture and imprisonment[edit]

On 13 July 1944 Devyataev was downed near Lwów over German-held territory and became a prisoner of war, held in the Łódź concentration camp. He made an attempt to escape on 13 August but was caught and transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. He soon realised that his situation was perilous because as a Soviet pilot, he could expect extreme brutality; therefore, he managed to exchange identities with a dead Soviet infantryman.

With his new identity, Devyataev was later transferred to a camp in Usedom to be a part of a forced labor crew working for the German missile program on the island of Peenemünde. Under hellish conditions, the prisoners were forced to repair runways and clear unexploded bombs by hand. Security was rigidly enforced with vicious guards and dogs, and there was little chance of escape. Even so, by February 1945, Devyataev concluded that, however remote, the chance of escape was preferable to certain death as a prisoner.


Devyataev managed to convince three other prisoners (Sokolov, Krivonogov and Nemchenko) that he could fly them to freedom. They decided to run away in the dinnertime, when most of the guards were in the dining room. Sokolov and Nemchenko were able to create a work gang from Soviet citizens only, as they didn't know foreign languages to communicate freely and coordinate their plans with other inmates.

At noon on 8 February 1945, as the ten Soviet POWs, including Devyataev, were at work on the runway, one of the work gang, Ivan Krivonogov, picked up a crowbar and killed their guard. Another prisoner, Peter Kutergin, quickly stripped off the guard's uniform and slipped it on. The work gang, led by the "guard", managed to unobtrusively take over the camp commandant's He 111 H22 bomber and fly from the island. Devyataev piloted the aircraft.

The Germans tried to intercept the bomber unsuccessfully. The aircraft was damaged by Soviet air defences but managed to land in Soviet-held territory. The escapees provided important information about the German missile program, especially about the V-1 and V-2.

After a short time in hospital, in late March 1945 seven of the escapees were sent to serve in the rifle unit, five of them died in action over the following weeks. The three officers were suspended for a longer investigation till the end of the war.[2]


Devyataev was discharged from the army in November 1945. However, his classification remained that of a "criminal" and so he was unable to find a job for a long while. Eventually, though, Devyataev found work as a manual laborer in Kazan. Soviet authorities cleared Devyataev only in 1957, after the head of the Soviet space program Sergey Korolyov personally presented his case, arguing that the information provided by Devyataev and the other escapees had been critical for the Soviet space program. On 15 August 1957, Devyataev became a Hero of the Soviet Union, and a subject of multiple books and newspaper articles. He continued to live in Kazan, working as a captain of first hydrofoil passenger ships on the Volga. In 1972, he published his memoirs.


Devyataev was awarded the Order of Lenin, the Order of Red Banner twice, Order of the Patriotic War (first and second class), and many other awards. He became an honoured citizen of Mordovia Republic, the cities of Kazan, Wolgast and Zinnowitz (Germany).

Death and legacy[edit]

He died at Kazan in 2002, aged 85, and is buried in an old Arsk Field cemetery in Kazan near a World War II Memorial. There is a museum of Devyataev in his native Torbeyevo (opened 8 May 1975) and monuments in Usedom and Kazan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Melnikov, Aleksandr. "Девятаев Михаил Петрович". www.warheroes.ru. Retrieved 2019-10-10.
  2. ^ Devyatayev 1972, p. 269-271.