I just read this small Wikipedia page about a 1941 Purge of the Red Army. There is something rather shocking:

In May, a German Junkers Ju 52 landed in Moscow, undetected by the ADF beforehand, leading to massive arrests among the Air Force leadership.

Wikipedia does have a source for this, but it's a giant Russian text. I could not find the reference after a translation and quick search. Even if it does reference it, I would really like a corroborating source somewhere.

So is this really true? If so, who was the pilot, what was the intention, where did the flight originate, etc.

EDIT: Okay so based on the comments, I think I better add 2 things.

  1. Yes, I am aware of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, so, in May 1941, officially, the USSR and Germany were friends. But didn't everyone know of the huge ideological differences, thanks to, among other things, Mein Kampf? I mean, goodness, Hitler basically told everyone his strategic aim was to take the East! Wasn't the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact a huge shock to the world when it came out in August 1939, for that very reason, and no one really believed it?
  2. I know radar was not very sophisticated or widespread. I am not shocked that it was undetected, though we would need to know the flight-path to be sure. I am shocked that there was apparently no incident afterwards.
  • 7
    Rudolph Hess's evil twin perhaps? Jul 14, 2018 at 7:12
  • 3
    Re it's a giant Russian text: Can you provide the link where this text is located?
    – user23839
    Jul 14, 2018 at 8:01
  • 18
    @PieterGeerkens More like Mathias Rust's grandfather.
    – user8611
    Jul 14, 2018 at 9:17
  • 6
    In May 1941, Ribbentrop-Molotov pact was still in force, so such landing was neither shocking nor suicidal, as it looks to us today. It wasn't until June 22, 1941 that the two became enemies.
    – Agent_L
    Jul 14, 2018 at 12:26
  • 4
    @Agent_L Correct me, if I'm wrong, but I don't think that an airplane of one friendly nation (say, modern Germany) can violate the airspace of another friendly nation (say, Austria) without legal or political consequences. My impression is that the Soviets wanted to postpone the war with Germany as much as possible and that was the primary reason they didn't intercept the airplane.
    – user23839
    Jul 14, 2018 at 16:11

3 Answers 3


I found what Sudoplatov actually writes in this book. The reference is in his memoirs. Here is my translation:

In May 1941, a German Ju-52 penetrated Soviet airspace and, unnoticed, successfully landed on the central airfield of Moscow, near Dynamo stadium. This created a stir in Kremlin and led to a wave of repressions among the military command: first people were fired, then arrested and the top commanders of the air force were executed.

He gives no further references or detail, but memoirs of Pavel Sudoplatov are generally trusted, and he really was near the center of events.

If you find the fact itself surprising, let me recall that in May 1987, a very similar case happened: a young German guy Mathias Rust flying from Germany, in a small private airplane penetrated all Soviet air defenses and suddenly landed on the Red Square, just next to the main entrance to Kremlin. Some top air force commanders were also dismissed, but no one was executed as far as I know.

Some air force commanders later claimed that they detected the plane but did not know how to react. (This was the time of perestroika, a radical improvement of Soviet-Western relations.) One can add that in May 1941 the relations of Soviet Union with Germany were also very friendly...

In 1987, Soviet ADF was supposed to be more advanced that it was in 1941. This accident made a great impression on the Soviets, and contributed to eventual end of the Soviet Union.

EDIT: Russian wikipedia has an article on this incident. They give a lot of references, all in Russian.

  • 2
    I'm surprised mostly because something like that should have caused some international incident that can be read about in newspapers, but it seems practically unknown outside Russia. At the very least, aren't there any German sources for it? And yeah I remember reading the 1987 and was reminded of it too, but at this point, I'd still have to say they are very different. If we knew more details of the 1941 incident, like the pilot, the intentions, etc, I could make better comparisons with 1987 incident.
    – DrZ214
    Jul 14, 2018 at 8:54
  • Other sources mention Ju-52, quite different tham a Ju-88
    – roetnig
    Jul 14, 2018 at 9:30
  • 2
    I heard that it is hard to detect low-flying aircraft like Cessna. Allegedly, they are frequently used by drug traffickers flying to and from the US. Most of the time they are not shot down. Another reason why the Soviets didn't want to down Rust was reputation: They already shot down a passenger aircraft couple of years before.
    – user23839
    Jul 14, 2018 at 10:22
  • 1
    @FranzDrollig There are other options to shooting down planes. The US doesn't shoot down drug smuggling planes. When they detect one they follow it, wait for it to land and arrest everyone on board.
    – Ross Ridge
    Jul 14, 2018 at 18:47
  • 1
    @DrZ214 Neither of the countries involved were known for the freedom of their press at the time, and the USSR was notably opaque to foreigners during Stalin years. And of course, there was a war filling all the headlines. So that the fact was not reported in the press (even if it happened) would have been hardly surprising. Also, at the time Stalin was trying to avoid giving the Germans any pretext for attacking (because that had worked so well for Poland, I guess) so it would have been reasonable if there was not a very strong diplomatic reaction.
    – SJuan76
    Jul 14, 2018 at 21:17

I don't know whether this is true, but there is some information about it in Russian Internet.

Russian Wikipedia article says

15 мая 1941 года немецкий Ju 52 вторгся в советское воздушное пространство и, пролетев по маршруту Белосток — Минск — Смоленск незамеченным, приземлился в Москве на центральном аэродроме около стадиона «Динамо».


On May 15th, 1941 a German Ju-52 entered Soviet airspace and having flown the route Belostok - Minsk - Smolensk undetected landed in Moscow on the central aerodrome next to the "Dynamo" stadium.

The source for this statement is the book "Soviet Intelligence before June 22nd, 1941: Memoirs of Pavel Sudoplatov" (Советская разведка перед 22 июня 1941 (из воспоминаний Павла Судоплатова)).

The text related to Ju-52 incident claims that according to some sources the plane delivered a special letter from Hitler to Stalin (По некоторым данным, на нем доставили личное письмо Гитлера Сталину.).

Russian article says the following:

Внутри высших политических и военных кругов страны несанкционированный прилет в Москву Ю-52 особого всплеска эмоций не вызвал. Мерецков видел, что нарком Тимошенко, начальник Генштаба Жуков злополучный перелет Ю-52 не считали таким уж ЧП. Самолеты Германии часто нарушали границы Советского Союза, нередко садились на нашей территории, иногда даже группами. С октября 1939-го по май 1941 года таких нарушений было свыше пятисот, причем наибольшее число из них приходилось на первое полугодие 1941 года. Сбивать самолеты-нарушители категорически запрещалось. Наркомат иностранных дел СССР подавал официальные протесты Германии, на которые она не реагировала.


There was no outburst of emotions inside highest political and military circles of the country after the incident. Meretskov saw that narkom Timoshenko, chief of the general staff Zhukov didn't regard the unfortunate flight of Ju-52 as a particularly grave emergency. German airplanes frequently violated the borders of the Soviet Union, frequently landed on our territory, sometimes even in groups. From October 1939 through May 1941 there have been over 500 such violations, most of which occured in the first half of 1941. It was categorically prohibited to shoot down these airplanes. Soviet foreign ministry sent official protests to Germany, to which the Germans did not react.

Another article claims that the route of that plane was this: Königsberg - Białystok - Minsk - Smolensk - Moscow.

That article says there are no traces of Hitler's leter to Stalin.

Однако никаких следов пресловутого «письма Гитлера к Сталину» до сих пор не обнаружено.

The same article says the Germans probably wanted to test the state of the Soviet counter-air defense and find out the optimal direction of attack in coming war.

вторая версия состоит в том, что немцы просто пытались исследовать состояние советского ПВО и разведать будущие направление главного удара вермахта.

Here are the details of how it happened that a German plane was not intercepted:

Наблюдатели приняли немецкую машину за рейсовый самолет ДС-3 (Ли-2) и никому не доложили о появление чужого аэроплана. Белостокский аэродром, получив информацию о пролете «Юнкерса», не поставил в известность командование близлежащих частей ПВО, поскольку еще с 9 мая, связь с силами противовоздушной обороны была прервана по техническим причинам. Последние, даже не думали восстанавливать связь, а вели переговоры с Белостокским аэродромом о том, кому надлежит восстанавливать коммуникации. В итоге, командование Западной зоны ПВО получило информацию о пролете Ю-52, только когда самолет немцев приземлился в Москве. Не знало о пролете «Юнкерса» и командование штаба 1 –ого корпуса ПВО города Москвы. Зато главное управление ВВС Красной Армии информацию о самовольно перелетевшем границу самолете получило, но вместо того чтобы задержать нарушителя, разрешило ему сесть на московском аэродроме и даже распорядилось службам ПВО обеспечить перелет.


Observers mistook the German aircraft for a Soviet passenger place DC-2 (Li-2) and didn't tell anybody about it. The aedrdome in Białystok, did not notify nearby conter-air defense units because there was no communication with them since May 9th (for technical reasons). The latter didn't intend to repair the communications and instead negotiated with Białystok aerodrome on who is supposed to do this work. As a result, the Wester Zone Counter-Air Defense Command received information about the flight of Ju-52 only after the German airplane landed in Moscow. The command of the staff of 1st corpos of counter-air defense of Moscow also didn't know about it. But the chief command of the Red Army air force did receive information about the airplane that violated the Soviet airspace. Instead of intercepting it, they allowed them to land on the Moscow airfield and even asked the counter-air defense services to support the flight.

Li-2 was a Soviet version of the American DC-3 airplane.


In the online version of Berliner Morgenpost Newspaper there is this paragraph:

Wenige Wochen vor dem Überfall tauschten beide Diktatoren Briefe aus, in denen sie sich ihrer gegenseitigen Bündnistreue versicherten. Hitler war an einem der raffiniertesten und erfolgreichsten Täuschungsmanöver des Krieges persönlich beteiligt. Am 15. Mai 1941 landete nach einem angeblich unautorisierten Flug in Moskau eine Ju-52 mit einem Brief Hitlers an Stalin. Das Flugzeug überwand alle Luftabwehr-Zonen, wurde in Moskau betankt und flog zurück.


A few weeks before the attack the dictators exchanged letters, in which they assured each other, to hold on to their alliance. Hitler was personally involved in one of the most elaborate and successfull deception schemes. On May 15. 1941 after an allegedly unauthorized flight a Ju-52 landed in Moscow with a letter from Hitler to Stalin. The plane passed all air defense zones, was refueled in Moscow and returned.

This is during the time when Stalin received much information about the upcoming attack by the Germans but didn't believe it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.