Boris Gribkov
Fictional Character
The Hot War
POD: November, 1950
Appearance(s): Bombs Away
Type of Appearance: Direct POV
Nationality: Soviet Union
Occupation: Pilot
Military Branch: Soviet Air Force

Boris Gribkov was a Soviet Tu-4 pilot during World War III. He was perhaps one of the most "storied" pilots of the war, being responsible for dropping atomic bombs on Seattle, Bordeaux, Paris, Antwerp and Washington, DC.

In January 1951, Gribkov and his crew were transferred to an airbase in Provideniya, the location in the Soviet Union that was closet to the American west coast.[1] Personally, he had little use for the U.S., but admitted that his plane (a model reverse engineered from the American B-29) proved that Americans built impressive aircraft.[2] Gribkov understood that his transfer probably meant that the Soviet Union was anticipating an attack on U.S. territory.[3]

On 23 January 1951, the U.S. dropped several atomic bombs in Manchuria.[4] Joseph Stalin ordered retaliatory attacks in Europe on 1 February.[5]

The U.S. destroyed Pechenga on 4 February. In response, Soviet flyers destroyed Elmendorf Air Force Base on 7 February.[6] When Gribkov asked why the flyers at Provideniya hadn't been sent to Elmendorf, he was told that they would have been detected by U.S. radar. He also learned that the Tu-4s that had bombed Elmendorf Air Force Base had been painted to look like B-29s. He suggested to his immediate commander, Colonel Doyarenko, that the U.S. could paint its B-29s to look like Tu-4s.[7]

Another round of bombs prompted the USSR to invade West Germany on 17 February. After the Soviets launched a successful drive, the U.S. was able to disrupt Soviet supply lines with atom bombs a week later. In response, on March 1, the flyers at the Provideniya base were sent west in Tu-4s painted to look like B-29s. With tremendous luck the attacks were mostly successful. Gribkov, despite misgivings, and his crew, accepted the assignment to bomb Seattle.[8]

After a successful bombing run, Gribkov turned the plane back to the Pacific, and, after a tense flight that saw the fuel gauge fall into the red, found the Red Fleet ships tasked with picking up the crew. Gribkov landed the plane in water and to his surprise, his entire crew survived the trip and the landing. They were taken aboard a destroyer called the Stalin.[9]

The North Pacific was difficult for Gribkov, who was frequently seasick. During the voyage, the ship's captain, Anatoly Edzhubov, informed Gribkov that several ports, including Petropavlovsk, the Stalin's original destination, had been destroyed by the U.S. Edzhubov also informed Gribkov that Provideniya had also been destroyed. They were now headed to Korf (which Gribkov had never heard of).[10] Prior to their arrival, Radio Moscow suddenly went off the air. When it did come on, the broadcasters were unfamiliar and the signal was weak. When they arrived in Korf proper, Joseph Stalin gave a broadcast speech, confirming that Moscow had been subjected to atomic bombing, but he'd survived.[11]

Gribkov and his crew received a hero's welcome in Korf.[12] They were taken to Kuibishev, the new capital of the Soviet Union, and received Hero of the Soviet Union medals and were extensively photographed. Gribkov's navigator, Leonid Tsederbaum, was quietly skeptical of the whole process, as Gribkov's crew were the only bombers who received the Hero of the Soviet Union medals (suggesting they were the only crew to make it back).[13] Tsederbaum also privately challenged some of Gribkov's presumptions about the nobility of their socialist cause.[14]

In mid-April, Gribkov and his crew were transferred to an airfield outside of Leningrad. They took a train to Moscow, and were able to see the damage to the heart of the city first hand. They were flown the rest of the way, and could also see the damage inflicted on Leningrad. Gribkov expressed anger that the Soviet air force hadn't stopped those attacks.[15] In the closing days of April, Gribkov's plane was equipped with a new "Identification, friend or foe" (IFF) designed to confuse American planes. The Soviets knew that the U.S. changed their IFF codes on the first of the month, and so they had some latitude.[16] The crew then took a circuitous route through southern Europe (including violating Yugoslavian airspace), finally delivering an atomic bomb to Bordeaux, France. The IFF let them get home safely,[17] although they did have a near-miss in early May when their airfield was bombed by the Americans using conventional explosives.[18]

In June, Gribkov and his crew were transferred to Soviet-held Munich. The base commander, Colonel Madinov, informed them that they would be attacking Paris.[19] The crew was assigned a new radioman, Klement Gottwald, a Sudeten German who spoke excellent English. No one was enthusiastic about destroying one of the world's great cities, but Paris was a critical transportation hub, and an attack there would hurt the Americans' ability to resupplying troops in Germany.[20] The next day, with the IFF and Gottwald providing cover, Gribkov was able to drop an atomic bomb near the Arc de Triomphe and safely return to Munich.[21]

For a brief period, Gribkov and his crew were treated as heroes by their fellow pilots in Munich. However, Gribkov could see that Leonid Tsederbaum was in a bad way.[22] Finally, one night, Gribkov's co-pilot, Vladimir Zorin, woke Gribkov and told him that Tsederbaum had shot himself in a latrine. Gribkov quickly went through Tsederbaum's pockets. He found a note from Tsederbaum essentially hoping that future generations would not hate Tsederbaum for the cities he'd helped destroy. Gribkov burned the note, realizing that the MGB would come down on Tsederbaum's family if they found it.[23]

It didn't do the crew much good: Gribkov and his men were grounded while the first the MGB and then the GRU investigated them. While neither agency expressed satisfaction with Gribkov's professed ignorance as to Tsesderbaum's motives, the crew was too valuable to keep grounded. They were soon assigned a new navigator, Yefim Arzhanov, and allowed to return to Prague.[24]

However, Gribkov and his crew still remained grounded and under suspicion while stationed in Prague.[25] Even after the U.S. dropped a series of atomic bombs on Soviet forward positions in West Germany, and even in Eastern Europe,[26] Gribkov had to confront the base commandant, Brigadier Yulian Olminsky, who, after making Gribkov wait, finally confirmed that the MGB had judge the crew unreliable, and so would not let them fly.[27]

Finally, after a couple of months which saw the Soviet Union's forward positions in Europe destroyed, followed by a slow retreat back east, Olminsky gave Gribkov's crew a mission. This time, Antwerp, one of the key ports to which the Allies shipped men and materiel. The mission was similar to the Paris attack, with Gribkov's Tu-4 flying as close to the sea as possible to fool Allied radar. The route took Gribkov's plane over Denmark, which while nominally a NATO ally, had done little to actually support the war effort. The mission was a success, and Antwerp was destroyed. Gribkov felt increasingly torn about his role in destroying cities.[28]

A few weeks later, an uprising in Slovakia managed to seize Bratislava. Olminsky tasked Gribkov with helping to put the coup down. To Gribkov's relief, he would not be using another atom bomb (there were none to spare) but conventional ordinance with the goal of leveling Bratislava. Olminsky was forced to concede that the Slovaks would have air defenses, including flak. As the TU-4 was actually quite vulnerable to such defenses, Gribkov was alarmed by this knowledge.[29] When he informed his crew, most had the same unspoken concern about attacking a country that was supposed to be a Soviet ally.[30]

Their attack was launched just after midnight. While Gribkov's crew was able to deliver their payload, their plane was hit by flak, and everyone was forced to bail out.[31] He landed safely, and was able to make his way to Magyarovar, Hungary, where he remained in the protective custody of Hungarian secret policeman named either Geza Latos or Latos Geza (Gribkov wasn't sure as to the correct order). While the Hungarian government arranged for Gribkov to be transferred back to the Soviets, Gribkov learned that the uprising in Slovakia had spilled into Hungary.[32] When an armored convey did set out for Magyarovar, it was delayed by when one tank was destroyed by a mine in the roadway. As the convey carried Gribkov back to Budapest, they were attacked by small-arms fire. Gribkov arrived safely, and was immediately flown east.[33]

He was assigned to an airbase located between Odessa and the Romanian border. He also received a new crew (he had no idea what happened to his previous crew), including co-pilot Anton Presnykov, engineer Lev Vaksman (a Jew), navigator Syastoslav Filevich, and radio operator Faizulla Ikramov. Beginning in January, 1952, the crew began training for mid-air refueling. The Soviets based their technique on one the Germans had actually attempted to use to refuel their submarines.[34]

After months of practice, Gribkov and several other TU-4s set out for the East Coast of the U.S. in May. They arrived undetected, and the mid-air refueling scheme worked. Gribkov's crew dropped a between the White House and the Capitol building. Only as they made their way over Washington, DC did U.S. air defenses realize there was a problem, but by then, it was too late. Washington was destroyed. Another plane dropped a second bomb for good measure.[35] Gribkov and the crew ditched in the ocean, and were picked up by the submarine S-71, commanded by Alexei Vavilov. On the ride home, Gribkov began to feel the weight of the cities he destroyed.[36]


  1. Bombs Away, pg. 25-29., ebook.
  2. Ibid., pg. 25.
  3. Ibid., pg. 28-29.
  4. Ibid., pgs. 55-58.
  5. Ibid., pgs. 64-65, 70.
  6. Ibid., pg. 93.
  7. Ibid., pg. 96.
  8. Ibid., pgs. 141-145.
  9. Ibid., pgs. 155-159.
  10. Ibid., pgs. 176-177.
  11. Ibid., pg. 179.
  12. Ibid., pgs. 179-180.
  13. Ibid, pgs., 214-215.
  14. Ibid., pgs 215-217.
  15. Ibid., pgs. 243-247.
  16. Ibid., pgs. 307-309.
  17. Ibid., pgs. 310-311.
  18. Ibid., pgs. 337-340.
  19. Ibid., pg. 426.
  20. Ibid., pg. 429.
  21. Ibid., pg. 430.
  22. Fallout, loc., 138-173.
  23. Ibid, loc. 185-197.
  24. Ibid., loc. 868-925.
  25. Ibid., loc. 1958
  26. Ibid. loc. 1751-1886.
  27. Ibid., loc. 2000-2015.
  28. Ibid., loc. 3094-3167.
  29. Ibid., loc. 3646-3682.
  30. Ibid, loc. 3694.
  31. Ibid., loc. 3706-3718.
  32. Ibid., loc. 4194-4232.
  33. Ibid., loc. 4243-4267.
  34. Ibid., loc. 4964-5023.
  35. Ibid., loc. 6541-6615.
  36. Ibid., loc. 6692-6762.

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