Thursday, February 6, 2014
Soldier of Monarchy: Colonel Alexander Kazakov
The man who would achieve the greatest combat record of anyone in the Imperial Russian Air Service was Alexander Alexandrovich Kazakov. Born into a minor noble family on January 15, 1889 in Kherson Governorate (today the Ukraine), the young Kazakov wasted no time in setting his life on course for a military career. Like many future pilots (in many other countries) Kazakov first decided on the cavalry as his preferred branch of service. In 1908 he graduated from Yelizavetgrad cavalry school and served in the cavalry until 1913. First serving as a coronet in the Twelfth Lancer regiment he was promoted to lieutenant in 1911. In 1913 he decided to trade his horse in for an airplane and began undergoing training to become a pilot at the Gatchina military aviation school. He qualified as a military pilot in September of 1914, after World War I had already broken out, and was sent to the front in December as the youngest pilot of the fourth aviation corps. During his career, Kazakov flew the Morane-Saulnier, Spad - SA2, the Nieuport 11 and the Nieuport 17; all French aircraft. In quick order he would prove himself to be among the best fighter pilots the First World War would produce.
An example of this came on May 6, 1917 when Colonel Kazakov achieved his sixth victory but which he won in cooperation with Ernst Leman and Pavel Argeyev. Nonetheless, he had shot down another plane by May 25 and by the end of his career reached a total of 20 confirmed aerial victories, making him the number one Russian ace of the First World War. His actual score, however, may have been considerably higher or a bit lower, though not enough to rob him of his ‘number one’ status. According to some sources he shot down 15 enemy planes on his own and 17 in conjunction with other pilots while still other sources claim he shot down 32 aircraft but this was most likely a number arrived at by combining both sets of victories into one total. However, whether it was 15 and 17, 20 or 32, Kazakov was certainly the most successful Russian fighter pilot of the war. Unfortunately, despite the ultimate Allied victory, the cause for which he fought was a lost one.
Kazakov was disgusted by the outbreak of the October Revolution and refused to betray his oath of loyalty to the Tsar. As a result, the revolutionary government stripped him of his rank and dismissed him from service. Later, a friend warned him that the Red Army was about to press him into service as a military aviation expert. Refusing to join the detested Red faction, Colonel Kazakov went to Murmansk in June of 1918 and from there, in August, to Archangel where he enlisted with the Slavo-British Allied Legion to fight for the White Russian faction against the Reds. He was given the rank of major in the Royal Air Force of Great Britain and appointed to command the air squadron of the legion, flying the rugged Sopwith Camel planes. Unfortunately, the British soon withdrew their support and as this vital assistance drained away, White Russian morale plummeted. On August 1, 1919, near Benezniky, Kazakov arranged an air show to cheer the troops. Sadly, he died in a plane crash in that very show. Officially, it was considered an accident, but many witnesses, such as the British flying ace Ira Jones, believed that Kazakov had crashed his plane deliberately, knowing that the counterrevolutionary cause was doomed and refusing to live on in a world in which his beloved Russian homeland was ruled by the hated Bolsheviks. Whatever the case, Russia had lost her most successful ace, one of the great pioneer fighter pilots of Russian history and a faithful soldier, loyal to the death to his Tsar and motherland.