The Russians are Coming

Image of a Russian Lisunov Li-2 transport aircraft in military markings
San Diego Air and Space Museum Photo Archives

Following the ending of the war in Europe, the principal allies convened in Potsdam on 17 July 1945 to establish the means to administer Germany after her surrender on 8 May 1945. The allies were represented by Premier Joseph Stalin, President Harry S Truman and Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee (Churchill was defeated by Attlee in the UK General Election at the end of July).

The other main goals of the conference included determining the post-war order, the peace treaties with the other Axis countries and how to counter the effects of the war. To further matters after the conclusion of the conference, a Council of Foreign Ministers was created. This Council now extended to include delegates from France and China. The objective set out was to draw up peace treaties with Italy, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland for submission to the United Nations. This formed the basis for the Berlin Agreement.

The first Foreign Ministers’ Conference was held in London. As a result, the Soviet delegation, under Vyacheslav Molotov arrived at Croydon on 9 September 1945. At this stage Croydon was operating under 110 (Transport) Wing of the RAF with a detachment of 271 Squadron Dakotas in residence. Croydon was also reverting to a civilian airport at this time with the local requisitioned accommodation being returned to its peacetime owners. As a consequence, RAF personnel were billeted at RAF Kenley which was no longer conducting flying operations. Hence on the same day the Russian aircrew for the delegation arrived at Kenley. The Station Diary noted:

A contingent of Russian aircrew is being accommodated here with effect from to-day, for a few weeks…Everything is being done for their comfort and convenience and they are settling in well.

The following day a detachment from A.12(g) of the Air Ministry to coordinate the receipt and storage of “Secret German aircraft equipment” which was being sent to the UK by Air Disarmament Units on the Continent, the station Blister hangars being designated for this purpose.

Two days later, on 12 September, 110 (Transport) Wing appointed Squadron Leader R D Hanbury as Liaison Officer with Flying Officer N P M Ellis as his interpreter. Much to the surprise of the Kenley personnel, on the same day, the Russians decided to move five of their “Dakotas” from Croydon. As the Kenley Station Diary recorded:

We have no flying control staff, and no real landing facilities or organisation, except just the airfield! However, we coped.

The Russians had acquired a license to build the Douglas DC-3, as the Lisunov Li-2, in 1936 and under the military designation PS-84 using a locally built derivative of the Wright Cyclone 9 engine. It is extremely likely that these were the aircraft the Russians brought to Kenley. Just under 5000 Li-2s were built between 1940 and 1954. The Russians also received Lend-Lease DC-3s during the course of the war.

Unfortunately, the high hopes for the Council of Foreign Ministers did not materialise with Russia taking a different interpretation of the Berlin Agreement to the United States and United Kingdom. As a result of this difference of opinion the conference broke up on 2 October 1945, with the Russian aircrew and their aircraft leaving the following day. Relations between the eastern and western allies were already beginning to cool.

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