Crew of Soviet bomber that crashed in Kannusjärvi in 1941 finally identified
Navigator Ivan Gubar’s miraculous escape continues to astonish investigators
By Leena Härkönen
On the last day of June 1941 an unusual incident caused a stir in the village of Kannusjärvi in the Kymi River Valley. Some new light has now been shed on the episode in question.
The Continuation War had broken out between Finland and the Soviet Union just under a week earlier, and the locals had seen hundreds of Soviet bombers in the sky, heading west towards Helsinki, Turku and other centres of population.
Now a Soviet bomber with a crew of three crashed into one of the fields just outside the village. One of the airmen died instantly on impact, and the second had been killed before the plane came down, but the third man survived the crash in quite miraculous circumstances.
Aviation history experts Carl-Fredrik Geust and Jukka Vesen recently found out that the remains of the two men buried in a forest grave in the village are those of the twin-engined Tupolev SB's pilot, 2nd Lt. Aleksandr Nikolayevich Sotšenkov, and the plane’s radio officer/machine-gunner Flt. Sgt. Vasili Andreyevich Kolesnikov.
The commissioned officer known as “Ivan Kubah”, who astonishingly managed to escape the crash via the wing of the plane and with only minor injuries, has been formally identified as Ivan Nikiforovich Gubar, born in 1917.
He was the Tupolev's navigator/bomb-aimer and by rank he was also a 2nd Lieutenant.
In their efforts to identify the airmen, Geust and Vesen received help from Russian Ilja Prokofiev. Prokofiev is an active seeker of casualties of war, and he has in the past helped out Finnish search parties looking for persons listed as MIA inside Russia.
The names of the pilots were verified in December, and last week Geust dug out Gubar’s prisoner of war card, issued by the Finnish Red Cross, from the National Archives.
The card contains, among other things, a description of the prisoner, information regarding his injuries, and the names and the address of his parents.
The laconic document does little justice, however, to the sight that was witnessed by the villagers working away in the Tykkä Farm hayfield on June 30th, 1941.
A bomber, smoke streaming from one of the engines, approached in a long glide just over the treeline from the direction of the city of Kouvola to the north-west.
This would have been shocking enough for most lifetimes, but seconds before the plane hit the field a man was seen to climb out of a roof hatch at the top of the fuselage, crawl along the left wing, and drop himself to the ground while the plane was still airborne, though now flying very low. Needless to say, he did not have time to deploy his parachute.
“The man scrambled to his feet and ran into a nearby patch of forest and from there to those large rocks over there”, Vesen explains by the memorial stone slab commemorating the place of the incident.
“He was captured from there.”
Geust characterises the man’s daredevil escape as unique in international aviation history.
More details of the incident are available from the link given below, though I'm afraid this is in Finnish only.
Kauko Suurnäkki and Ahti Uski, who were in their early teens at the time of the incident, rushed with the rest of the villagers to see how a genuine enemy pilot from the Red Air Force was brought into the yard of the Tykkä farmhouse.
The man pointed at the wounds on his face and said “Jod, jod.”
There wasn't any iodine to hand, but one of the women brought some water and clean bandages. The airman drank the water thirstily and washed his face, and the bandages were fixed in place with safety pins.
“There was plenty of black smoke accompanied by an acrid smell coming from the direction of the plane, inside of which the two corpses were burning”, Uski remembers.
The next day the boys collected pieces of aircraft debris from the accident site.
Quite a few of the houses in the village still have some of these pieces, as does the Tykkä Farm Museum.
Ivan Gubar was sent as a POW to Prison Camp 1 in Köyliö.
In October 1944, after the cessation of hostilities, he was returned back to the Soviet Union through the border crossing at Vainikkala.
What happened to him after that, we do not know.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 12.5.2009
Note: Curiously enough, the Tupolev SB bomber mentioned in this article was also used during the Continuation War by the Finns themselves. Eight crash-landed Red Air Force planes were captured as spoils of war in the Winter War of 1939-40, and during the Continuation War the Finnish Air Force also picked up a further 16 Tupolevs, acquired from the German Luftwaffe, who had themselves captured them from the Soviets. These were delivered in three instalments between November 1941 and August 1942. The plane was - rather unsuprisingly in the circumstances - withdrawn from service in 1945 and all were scrapped or otherwise disposed of by 1950. None of the Tupolev SBs flying in Finnish livery were shot down.
A narrative (in Finnish) of the events of 30th June 1941, by Kauko Suurnäkki
Tupolev SB/Tupolev ANT-40 (Wikipedia)
LEENA HÄRKÖNEN / Helsingin Sanomat