The crash of the Yak-28
Where Wednesday 6th April 1966 differed from others in the divided city of Berlin, was in the events that transpired shortly after 1500 hours, an armed Yak-28 Jet Fighter Bomber took off from Finow Airfield, Eberswalde, in the Soviet Occupation Zone of East Germany. This strategically based Soviet Air Force Base was only 50 kilometres North East of the RAF Base at Gatow, in the British Sector of West Berlin, and regularly sent out sorties, which crossed West Berlin territory.
Top-Secret Radar System
The plane, fitted with a new Top Secret ‘Spin Skip’ Radar System and electronic countermeasures, of immense interest to the Western Allies. The aircraft, piloted by Captain Boris Vladislavovitsch Kapustin with Weapons Officer Senior Lieutenant Yuri Nikolayevich Yanov in the front seat. The plane was flying South West towards Berlin when technical problems developed, and they lost the engine. The stricken aircraft, almost out of control, raced at low level over built up and densely populated areas of West Berlin. Allied communications intelligence experts at the Teufelsberg listening station were monitoring the radio calls from the aircraft and their ground controllers.
According to eye-witnesses, the pilot fought gallantly to gain altitude, but at a low level, his options were limited. The listeners on the Teufelsberg heard the pilot ask his Weapons Officer, ‘Where to Yury?’ Rather than eject, these brave airmen decided to steer the stricken aircraft in the direction of Lake Stößensee. About 1536 hours, the aircraft crashed into the lake near to the Freybrucke, a bridge on the Heerstrasse, one of the main arteries through West Berlin. Both airmen tragically died, and for their heroic self-sacrifice, they were hailed as heroes by Willy Brandt, the Mayor of West Berlin and subsequently posthumously awarded the Soviet Medal of the Red Banner. The crash site was only a few kilometres from the border with the Russian Zone. The bodies of the two Airmen were subsequently brought up and handed over to the Russians, with military honours presented by the British Forces. There is now a plaque on the bridge commemorating the heroic actions of the Russian Aviators, which undoubtedly saved the lives of many West Berliners.
One of the Greatest Intelligence Coups of the Cold War
The crash site was only two kilometres from the Olympic Stadium housing the British Military Government and Headquarters of the British Forces in Berlin. The crash of the Russian aircraft developed into one of the most spectacular intelligence coups of the cold war. Armed Russian Troops made an incursion into West Berlin to recover their downed aircraft and protect their secrets. British Forces and Intelligence Agencies desperately wanted to learn those secrets and went to extreme lengths to do so, including delaying tactics while experts from the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough were flown in to oversee the removal of parts so that they could be spirited back to Farnborough for examination and later return to the aircraft. The methods used were pure James Bond, with aircraft engines suspended under motor launches and towed to a jetty further up the lake, for transportation by road to RAF Gatow and a waiting aircraft. Repatriation of the bodies of the two Airmen took place the following day, the salvage operation and delaying tactics ended at midnight on Wednesday 13th April, more than seven days after the crash. The Salvage barge with the remains of the aircraft sailed to the water border with the Russian Zone and was handed over to the Soviets. The complete operation was carried out under the direct gaze of the Russian Forces. The Russian representative, General Vladimir Bulanov, complained that parts of the aircraft were missing, in this, he was correct, some parts showed signs of having been sawn off. However, he received the answer that they were not found and probably still lay on the lake bed, this was said with a straight face and was very difficult to disprove.
There is still some mystery attached to the events leading to the crash of the Russian Aircraft. Conspiracy theorists suggest that the aircraft had bullet holes in the cockpit and suggested that the Pilot was shot attempting to escape to the West, also that the ejection seats had no explosive charges fitted and were thus inoperable. There is no evidence of this is in the public domain and witness observations support the theory that the two Airmen died a heroic death and richly deserved the thanks of West Berliners and their posthumous award for gallantry.