Who's Who - Ivan Smirnov

Ivan Smirnoff Ivan Vasilievich Smirnov (1895-1956) scored eleven victories as Russia's fourth leading air ace of the First World War.

Born on 30 January 1895 to a farming family in Vladimir province, some 190 km from Moscow, Smirnov started the war with the 96th Infantry Regiment.  He quickly established a reputation for bravery, earning the Cross of St. George - the first of many medals awarded to him during wartime - on 13 November 1914.

Suffering serious leg wounds in an ambush on 8 December 1914 Smirnov underwent extensive hospitalisation at Petrograd after which he emerged resolved to enter flight training.  He was awarded his pilots license at the close of 1915 following training at Gatchina and was attached to the 19th Corps Fighter Detachment.

All of Smirnov's victories were scored during 1917.  His first two came quickly at the start of the year; the remaining nine were tallied between August and November 1917 and included downing an enemy observation balloon.

With the end of the war - and with revolution sweeping his homeland - Smirnov travelled first to Vladivostok and then onwards to England.  He involved himself in the ultimately unsuccessful White counter-revolutionary force led by Denikin and Wrangel.

In the post-war years Smirnov worked in various positions and countries, firstly in Belgium and then in Holland where he became a pilot for the Dutch airline KLM.  In time Smirnov gained naturalisation as a Dutch citizen.  He gained renown for an incident in early March 1942 when he flew a Dakota DC-3 aircraft from Bandung in Java bound for Australia loaded with evacuees and a box of highly valuable diamonds.

His aircraft came under sustained fire from three Japanese planes in the course of which Smirnov suffered five bullet wounds to an arm.  He nevertheless succeeded in saving his aircraft by sending the Dakota into a steep spiral drive before finally landing on a beach.  Despite saving his passengers the cargo of diamonds was found to be missing.

At the close of the Second World War - which he saw out flying troop transport aircraft - Smirnov resumed employment with KLM, later serving as an adviser to the company.

He died on 28 October 1956 in Majorca aged 61.

'Kitchener's Army' comprised Men recruited into the British Army a result of Lord Kitchener's appeal for volunteers.

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