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Smushkevich, Iakov Vladimirovich

(1902–1941), military pilot and air force lieutenant general. Iakov Smushkevich (Vol’fovich) was born in Rokishkes, Lithuania, the son of an itinerant tailor. As a child, he studied in a heder. In 1915, together with other World War I refugees, Smushkevich and his family were evacuated to Russia. There he joined the Red Army and the Communist Party in 1918, and participated in fighting on the western front. He became commissar of a battalion and then of a regiment. In 1922, Smushkevich joined the air force and in 1931 was appointed commander and commissar of an air force brigade.

Under the name “General Douglas,” Smushkevich participated in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1937), playing a decisive role in defeating the Italian expeditionary force near Guadalajara and personally downing a number of enemy aircraft. Luftwaffe commander in chief Hermann Göring offered a reward of 1 million marks to any German pilot who downed General Douglas’s airplane. In June 1937, Smushkevich was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for successfully organizing the fight and displaying personal courage and heroism in battle. When he returned to the Soviet Union, he was appointed deputy commander of the Red Army Air Force. On the basis of his experiences in Spain, he directed the formulation of new tactical manuals, advocating the principle of massive strikes by large formations of aircraft.

In May 1939, Japan invaded the Mongolian People’s Republic in the Khalkhin Gol river region. The Soviet Union organized the First Army Group, commanded by Corps Commander Georgii Zhukov, to respond, and Smushkevich was given command of an air force group consisting of 500 aircraft. By late August, the Japanese troops were completely routed, but the air battle continued until 15 September, ending with total victory by the Soviet Air Force. In November of that year, Smushkevich was again awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union (and was the first air force officer to be granted this award twice). The Mongolian government granted him the Order of the Red Banner of the First Degree.

In 1939 and 1940, Smushkevich served as commander of the Red Army Air Force, attaining the rank of lieutenant general. He also became a candidate for membership on the Central Committee. In 1940 and 1941, he served as deputy chief of the air force at the Red Army General Staff. In his official positions, Smushkevich contributed to improving both the tactical flying qualities of Soviet aircraft and the overall fighting strength of the air force. He was involved in the annexation of the western territories and in the war against Finland.

On 7 June 1941, Smushkevich was arrested, charged with participation in the so-called military–fascist plot, and in October 1941 he was executed by shooting. Smushkevich was rehabilitated in December 1954.

Suggested Reading

Leonid Aleksandrovich Sheinker, Geroizm evreev na voine: Biograficheskie ocherki o podvigakh voinov–evreev na sovetsko–germanskom fronte (Tel Aviv, 2000); Fedor Davydovich Sverdlov, V stroiu otvazhnykh: Ocherki o evreiakh–Geroiakh Sovetskogo Soiuza (Moscow, 1992); Georgii Konstantinovich Zhukov, The Memoirs of Marshal Zhukov (New York, 1971).



Translated from Russian by I. Michael Aronson