1945 – 2015 Odessa – Elizabeth City
Founded in 1794, Elizabeth City…
In 1794, the city of Odessa was founded…
What bewildering concurrences life may devise sometimes: two cities in different hemispheres, divided by almost 9000 km, appeared twined by tragic fate of an Odessite.
The start was given, as is often the case with the World-Wide Club of Odessites, by a letter of the former Odessite, today’s USA resident, WWII veteran Ilya Povarchuk, born 1919, who addressed the Club site www.odessitclub.org,
He was busy preparing Russian-language article about aviator Valentin Levin, his bosom buddy since their school years in Odessa. (Since 1917 October Revolution in Russia and up to the outbreak of the USSR war with Germany in 1941 – all that early period under the Soviets - private life names very often had nothing in common with the names in the legal papers. Central figure of our trace-back story was called by his kin and closest friends Valentin, and quite otherwise officially – Vladimir). Information about Valentin’s wartime years and death in January 1945 was scarce. He was only known to have perished during special government mission.
Back from the front, Ilya visited Levin’s mother who allegedly told about her son’s involvement in ferrying American lend-lease aircraft from the USA to USSR in the closing stages of WWII, and that he perished rescuing an American airman when a regularly scheduled plane hit water. Ilya Povarchuk remembers the letter Levin’s mother has shown saying that it was from the USA President, and that the letter was in English.
It was all Levin’s mother has told, and it was as far back as 1946. Exact address of the Levins (mother and another son) where some papers may be still preserved escaped Povarchuk’s memory.
The story inspired interest in Igor Komarovskiy, the archival researcher who deals with history of repressions in the former Soviet Union as well as perpetuation of the memory of those killed on the WWII fronts, and who has already successfully enlivened out of oblivion our several fellow-citizens (ref. Internet-dossier at the end of the article).
Komarovskiy started from paging through all published volumes of the “Memorial Book” with listed names of Odessa and Odessa Region residents perished during the USSR Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 – Valentin Levin’s name was not found.
Internet information singled out Alaska as an intermediate point of the secret route along which the lend-lease 8000 airplanes were ferried from the USA to USSR. It was there, at the American Fairbanks airfield the airplane control and full liability were assumed by Soviet pilots.
It is worth noting that lend-lease aircraft ferrying was top secret both in the USA and Soviet Union, thus one could hypothesize the upcoming challenges.
To meet the issue, Igor Komarovskiy made a pioneering step by studying the “Memorial Book” of Chukotka* whereto the planes came as soon as they left Alaska. The Chukotka “Memorial Book” comprises names of the aviators who perished in the process of ferrying the planes. Not a single Levin was cited…
The first step was followed by a letter of March 19, 2013 to the Fairbanks University library. The answer read as follows: “…I’ve spent the last couple of days pouring through our resources and while we do have a lot of material on the lend-lease program, I can’t find any references to Valentin Levin, the specific crash you reference or the American pilot”. They suggested turning to the USA National Archives wherefrom we received the similar answer referring to absence of the aircraft number, date and place of the crash, etc.
As Ilya Povarchuk mentioned in his very first message the allegedly received letter signed by the USA President Franklin Delano Roosevelt with commendation for the saved American pilot, we addressed the Presidential Library-Museum but alas! – the answer was likewise negative.
Seemingly a deadlock… And at last a real godsend! After four months of investigation, by the end of June 2013 a new Odessa address of the Levins was found where Valentin Levin’s sibling – WWII veteran Saveliy Levin lived with his daughter Tatiana.
After a telephone talk with Saveliy and Tatiana Igor met them in person (Saveliy, aged 93 at the time of their meeting, soon left this world) and received several important archival documents which led his research to another destination. The crucial point was realization that Valentin Levin was a Navy aviator.
*Chukotka – the easternmost territory of the former Soviet Union bordering on Alaska
Several photos from the Levins’ family archives were obtained:
This new information, being provided to both the F.D. Roosevelt Presidential Library-Museum and USA National Archives, resulted in details of Captain Valentin Levin’s special government mission.
On July 20, 2013 a letter was received from the Presidential Library with reference to a book with necessary information: “…Ocean Bridge: The History of the RAF Ferry Command by Carl A. Christie… this aircraft loss, Catalina 02915 which crashed coming out of Elizabeth City, North Carolina on 11 January 1945 (12th in the book). The appendix in Ocean Bridge lists the crew as Peter Harry Nataros… and four Russian airmen, who are not named…”.
Another Igor Komarovskiy’s letter to the USA National Archives with newly received information brought back on August 27, 2013 the printed out aircraft crew radio traffic at the moment of the crash. The pages are marked “confidential”. The copy bore Levin’s surname and date – January 11, 1945 but nothing else.
Owing to the F.D. Roosevelt Presidential Library-Museum archivist William Baehr whose help was indispensable and who contributed greatly to our investigation, we at last came to know that amphibian Catalina 02915 in which crash Captain Valentin Levin perished took off from a Coast Guard base in Elizabeth City, North Carolina (USA).
In the Captain Chikov’s crew Valentin Levin was an aeronavigator. The aircraft crashed immediately after becoming airborne. It hit the Pasquotank river waters and sank. Along with the Soviet crew a radio officer in the Royal Air Force (United Kingdom) Ferry Command Peter Nataros was also listed dead (ref. Internet-dossier).
The archivist William Baehr led Igor Komarovskiy to a number of American mass-media materials on Catalina “flying boats”. All in all Soviet Union received 185 Catalinas.
American Catalina seaplanes inflow to the active fleets was initiated in summer 1944. They were delivered as follows. Aircrafts were received in the Elizabeth City, NC (USA) by Soviet Navy airmen from the special purpose airgroup.
59 flying vehicles were meant for the Black Sea fleet and polar aviation of the North Sea Route Head-Office. They used to be delivered along the longest route by six crews. The planes took off the USA grounds bound for subsequently: Puerto-Rico, Trinidad, Brasil, Gambia, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, and further on to Baku (Azerbaidjan Republic of the former USSR) wherefrom they started for Sevastopol (Crimea, former USSR). It took about 100 hours to ferry one aircraft.
On February 26, 2014 Igor Komarovskiy received an answer to his inquiry from the Navy Archives of Russia (Gatchina, Leningrad Region):
By the end of April 2014 some photos of the Valentin Levin’s grave in Donskoye cemetery in Moscow came provided by his relatives.
In June 2014 a letter was sent by the Club to the Elizabeth City Mayor in a hope he might find in the local archives or/and libraries any supporting matter (articles, newsreels, photos, etc.) pertaining to the period of Soviet airmen stay in his city.
Without still anticipated answer we were navigating Internet, and in early spring 2015 found a group photo of Soviet pilots and air crew with American servicemen posing at the Elizabeth City Coast Guard base in front of a Catalina “flying boat” in 1945.
It was accompanied by an article by American journalist Jeff Hampton published in the PilotOnLine Internet newspaper on July 26, 2014.
“…On Jan. 11, 1945, a seaplane took off in the darkness from a Coast Guard base in Elizabeth City. It was piloted by a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force and carried eight other aviators. The destination: Russia.
Not long after becoming airborne, the plane nosed down and plummeted into the Pasquotank River, killing five people aboard. The pilot and three others survived.
Last month, members of a club from the Ukrainian city of Odessa, who are planning a 70th-anniversary celebration of the end of World War II, wrote Elizabeth City officials to find out more about that night. One of the men who died, Capt. Vladimir M. Levin, was from Odessa.
City officials researched the incident and plan to send a letter with a few details to the Odessites…”.
In this way, still anticipating the Mayor’s answer that we never received, we became aware of his reaction to our address. (The unabridged article is available both in English and Russian in Internet-dossier).
Thus, due to one man, Odessite Valentin Levin, two cities in different hemispheres appeared linked by an invisible ocean bridge.
Story of the Odessite, aviator, Captian Valentin Levin’s fate – another exemplum in support of our Club’s name – the World-Wide Club of Odessites. Odessites were, are, and will be forever!
World-Wide Club of Odessites
P.S. Valentin Levin’s story is still incomplete, many questions are not answered yet, but the mainstream investigation is felt finished.
- Article by American journalist Jeff Hampton – in Russian
- Article by American journalist Jeff Hampton – in English
- A letter from the F.D.Roosevelt Presidential Library-Museum, letter by Igor Komarovskiy included – in English)
- Documentary on “flying boats”
Previous investigations by Igor Komarovskiy: