On June 2, 1944, 130 bombers B-17 Flying Fortress and 70 fighters escorted by P-51 Mustang flew from air bases in Italy, fought off targets in Hungary and landed on Soviet airfields near Poltava. That is how the combat phase on the shuttle bombing of German territory and its satellites, the operation Frantic, started. While preparing and conducting the operation, the Soviet people, previously completely unfamiliar with Americans, had to learn not only how they work and fight, but also how they rest.
By February 1945, the American air base near Poltava had lost its strategic importance due to the rapid advance of allied ground forces: both in East and West. The last combat mission was carried out at the end of September 1944. The operation “Frantic” where canceled, and by Winter 1945 most of the Americans had already left the Soviet-Union. By February 14 in Poltava there were only about 200 people left.
The archive of the former KGB of the Ukrainian SSR has a curious document about the celebration of St. Valentine's Day by the Americans at the 169th Special Force Aviation Base (ABON) of the Air Force of the spacecraft in Poltava, where the American military was stationed. The text was supplemented with previously unpublished photographs taken by the participant of the events. The document begins with the reaction of the Soviet counterintelligence to the report of the air base commander about the event and conclusions:
The commander of the 169th Special Force Aviation Base of the Red Army Air Force in Poltava, Major General of Aviation Kovalyov Stepan Korneevich, on 1th March 1045 made up the so-called «Information Certificate on the celebration of St. Valentine's Day» by American officers at the airfield in Poltava. This document, printed in five copies, was sent by Kovalev to Colonel-General of Aviation Nikitin, the Deputy Commander of the Red Army Air Force, to Colonel General Shimanov, A member of the Red Army Air Force Military Council, to Lieutenant General Krolenko, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Red Army Air Force, to Lieutenant General Levandovich, head of the Red Army Air Force Import Directorate, and to Major General Kutuzov, head of the Foreign Relations Department.
The content of Kovalev’s note suggests that the author misunderstood his surroundings, and as a result, he takes what shocked the Soviet general for granted.
Besides, in the Kovalev’s note accidentally or intentionally is bypassed the question of who issued the invitation to our officers to participate in such a bacchanal. If it was an invitation from a private person, and the whole evening was a “private drinking party”, then Kovalev’s behavior is even more disappointing.
Main Directorate of Counter-Intelligence «SMERSH» Operation Officer of the task force
Below is the full text of Major General Kovalev's note:
St. Valentine's Day is a historic holiday that Americans have been celebrating for over 100 years. The holiday is also called Holiday of Love because, according to legend, Americans believe that on this day, the priest St. Valentine joined two loving hearts: he performed the first wedding of a girl and a young man born in America. On this feast the Americans honor the one they love, and according to the custom, a man should present his beloved gift: a bouquet of flowers, perfume, candy, etc.
Anyone who comes to this feast may wear any costume he chooses.
This day is not considered a day off: usually everyone works, and in the evening, they come together and celebrate the holiday. Everyone who thinks he or she is still young and able to love takes part in the celebration.
By tradition, it has been established that in the army only officers take part in the celebration of this holiday, while sergeants and enlisted men do not take part in the celebration. The holiday of love is celebrated annually on February 14. American officers at the Poltava base spent the holiday at their officers' club. At the invitation of American officers, several people from our officers and their wives were attended.
The club atmosphere was no different from the usual daily atmosphere, the only difference was, that two shields were prepared in advance: one with a picture of a half-naked woman with a window instead of her head and the other with a man.
The costumes were diverse, ranging from sports to cowboy. Wine and treats were served free of charge, as that evening the entire club with all its contents was bought by two American officers, Captain Brown and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander, who paid together $290.
According to the law, every American officer who has served in the army, every 6 months a special patch is sewn on the sleeve of the suit, and he must throw a banquet. That night Captain Brown received the sixth and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander the fifth patch, so they threw a banquet, especially it coincided with the St. Valentine's Day.
The evening began at 8 p.m. with the usual American punctuality. Before the beginning, there were several officers dressed in military uniform, then, gradually, officers in masquerade costumes began to come.
One of the first to arrive was Senior Lieutenant Fredericks (Fedorov), dressed in a night suit with a German iron cross on his neck and a medal on his sleeve. He was impersonating the German chief of financial allowance and announced to everyone that he was not able to pay the money to German officers, because he himself remained in a night suit with the German cross.
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander and major Koepke arrived after Fredericks, dressed in cowboy suits: black trousers and long shirts with bright red ribbons.
The incoming Lieutenant Colonel Culberson and Major Weisshat were dressed in military suits, but negligibly small. Ties were worn around his bare neck, and collars were unbuttoned. It was just a parody of the military uniform. Each of them had all kinds of medals, Russian brooches and German badges hanged on their ties and chest. According Colonel Calberson and other officers, Calberson impersonated Hitler and imitated him in everything, but he did not quite succeed. With the German cross on his back, Calberson explained that the Germans are attacked from the East and the West. He was photographed backwards, with a German cross, in the pose of a running Fritz.
Major Weisshat had a Red Army star attached to his chest among all sorts of badges. When he was noticed that it was a bad combination, he replied: «I wear the star all the time, and I will take these badges off after the party. After all, I can't leave the hole where the star is attached empty."
Badges and brooches are attached wherever they can be attached. For example, Lieutenant Colonel Calberson had a real German iron cross attached below his back on a huge pin and red ribbon.
Each of the Americans present, especially Major Weisshat, tried to impersonate the Germans, making faces when they met each other, raising their hands up and shouting «heil».
After them, officers in even stranger costumes began to come. Captain Koval arrived wearing only white underpants and a single bright red ribbon across his chest. Captain Fitchen was also wearing khaki underpants, a tightly fastened jacket, a haircut of a savage, and with horn-rimmed glasses.
Lieutenant Kalyuta and the American nurses were the last to arrive. Kaluta was dressed as a German, wearing a German helmet, Hitler's fake haircut and black mustache. He was greeted with a German greeting 'heil', he responded the same way. Kaluta explained that he is impersonating a German SS army storm trooper. Together with the drunken Major Weisshat he tried to show that the Germans remain stupid framework even when retreating, unconsciously obeying their superiors. They marched through the hall with a German step, raising their legs high and saying: ''The Germans are fleeing''.
The nurses were dressed very modestly, in colorful dresses, in knitted jumpers and sweatshirts, trying to imitate the simple costumes of Russian women. Throughout the nurses' behavior we can say that they did not pursue any plans in their costumes, but simply tried to adapt to the environment in which they now live. They were quite modest at the party.
After a while, several officers from the combat flight crew from Poland burst into the club with noise. They all impersonated women. Their lips and cheeks were brightly painted, all had huge sizes fake breasts. Some of them wore swimsuits, others wore long skirts and jackets with open shoulders. All Americans, including nurses, were happy with the costumes, no one tried to shame people, but instead, everyone encouraged the most vulgar acts.
All Americans drank a lot of wine, danced and sang songs. The club was extremely noisy and, as one of the American officers correctly mentioned, was like a wild bacchanal of savages.
After everybody got pretty drunk, the photography started. On a large sheet of plywood was a human-sized half-naked woman in a short skirt and boots with a window instead of her head depicted. American men were photographed with this girl, putting their heads through the window. The second sheet of plywood depicted a man in Russian boots, wearing a large red shirt. Nurses were photographed with this painting.
Everyone took an active part in the celebration, except Captain Koval, Major Nicholson and the duty officer, Lieutenant Durand. These people barely drank wine and watched everyone.
When we asked some officers if this holiday always celebrates like this, we were told:
No, of course not always. In America it is much more modest.
Lieutenant Kaluta said:
Many of us have set a goal to criticize the Germans at the evening, as this is now the main issue. I have had a German costume for a long time, and one night in Pyriatyn I put it on, took a gun and came to Major Horkheimer. He didn't recognize me, got scared and held up his hands.
It should be noted that several American officers at this evening managed with their costumes and behavior to criticize the beaten Germans.
In general, this evening, as well as some other holidays, was randomly, everyone could do whatever they wanted, not shy about the presence of women. The most vulgar things were allowed, showing all the shortcomings and even the lack of basic rules of culture in the behavior of American officers at their evenings, even in the presence of Russian officers and Russian women.
What can be said after studying both General Kovalev's report and Captain Shpagin's cover letter? The commander of the 169th Special Force Air Base made a report on Valentine's Day celebrations by the Americans and sent it to the Air Force agencies that may have faced this phenomenon in the future. Major General Kovalev spent the year since March 1944 in close contact with the Allies and was probably used to their mentality and habits, but his report raised a lot of questions for SMERSH.
According to the award list made on September 15, 1944, the peculiarities of the work of the Chief of Staff of the 169th ABON Colonel Kovalev on " securing the actions of the US Air Force from the territory of the USSR» required «a special tact, culture in the work, the ability to properly establish business relations with the American headquarters, built on the principles of understanding the common tasks, friendship”. Colonel Kovalev completely accomplished that.
Mentality difference did not become a problem for joint actions of the American and Soviet military. Americans away from home and superiors had fun the way they wanted, but soon it was time to go home. A couple of days earlier, the Yalta Conference ended, which, according to many historians, had become a starting point for the beginning of the Cold War, and the Americans and Russians would not have to dance in the same club for several more decades.