Chupa, Republic of Karelia — Boris Aleksandrovich Lazarev, 22, was a World War II Soviet fighter pilot assigned to the Karelian Front‘s 760th IAP Air Force “Hurricane” squadron. On February 1943, as Nazi Germany tightened its grip around Eastern Europe, Lazarev was tasked with intercepting incoming attacks from the German Luftwaffe.
However, this fateful day at the peak of the cold Russian winter would be his last. He and his squadron of five Hurricane fighters would never return home alive. And as World War II raged on, their tragic story became lost in the chaos of countless battles and eventually fell into obscurity.
The Grim Discovery
It would be close to 60 years later, in 1998, that military historian and researcher Yuriy Rybin found archived documents detailing a chaotic aerial battle between German and Soviet air forces over the skies of Chupa.
Nothing much happens now in this sleepy coastal town of just under 3,000 people. But during World War II, Chupa was a hotbed of military activity. Its location was critical to the Soviet Union’s northern defense of Moscow, and so it was continually in the crosshairs of the German Luftwaffe who used neighboring Finland as a transit point for attacks.
Yuriy Rybin’s initial research hinted as to what may have actually happened to Lazarev and his Hurricane squadron. This would eventually lead to an extensive search, and then a remarkable, grim discovery in an obscure swamp in the outskirts of Chupa — revealing the true nature of the squadron’s fate.
The research team not only discovered the mangled wreckage of Lazarev’s aircraft buried deep inside a peat bog, but they also discovered the well-preserved mummified remains of Lazarev himself — still inside the cockpit. These discoveries helped the researchers piece together the last flight of Boris Lazarev’s Hurricane squadron.
Unraveling the Truth about Lazarev’s Final Flight
In the early morning of February 21, 1943, Lazarev and his squadron flew from a military air base located in Chupa, Republic of Karelia. They were soon intercepted by a squadron of Messerschmitt Bf-109 fighters from the Luftwaffe’s 6 Jagdgeschwader, 5th fighter squadron “Expertenstaffel” led by German fighter ace Oberfeldwebel (sergeant) Rudolf “Rudi” Muller.
This encounter led to a fierce dogfight between the opposing air forces, with casualties falling on both sides. One such casualty was Lazarev, who is believed to have been shot down by Rudolf Muller himself.
After examining Lazarev’s remains, researchers believe that he made an attempt to escape as his plane plummeted to the ground. His seat belt had been unbuckled like he was trying to vacate the aircraft. The position of his remains also suggests this, as his hands still clung to the straps of his parachute.
Unfortunately, it seems that the altitude was too low for such an escape, with the doomed pilot not having enough time to escape his aircraft before it crashed into the ground.
It was determined that the cause of death was from blunt force trauma to the chest and head caused by the impact of the crash. Additionally, both of Lazarev’s feet were severed from the ankles and later discovered inside the aircraft, also likely due to the violent force of the crash.
Mummified and Perfectly Preserved
Boris Lazarev’s corpse remained well preserved for nearly 60 years due to the unique conditions of the peat bog he and his aircraft sunk into. Bogs like these contain little to no oxygen, steady low temperatures, and highly acidic water which creates the perfect conditions for preserving a human body from decomposition. Researchers also believe that the gasoline and engine oil that leaked into the mangled cockpit also acted as preserving agents.
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Not only were the mummified remains of Lazarev perfectly preserved, but a number of his personal effects too had survived all these years later. This included a flight bag with an extra uniform still neatly folded, military papers and photo identification card, souvenirs likely taken from slain German troops, and a number of Soviet medals that testified to the bravery and skill of the young pilot.
Finally Laid to Rest
Local government officials, with help from military authorities and genealogists, located some of Boris Lazarev’s living relatives to inform them of the remarkable discovery. He was subsequently laid to rest with full military honors in Chupa Memorial Cemetery in Chupa, Karelian Republic. Local residents, and those from surrounding towns and across Russia, showed up to pay their final respects.
For many older Russians, Boris Lazarev was a painful link to a chaotic time period in world history many of them had personally lived through. He was a stark, somber reminder of the millions of Russians who died defending the motherland from Hitler’s Third Reich.
In a strange twist of fate, Rudolph Muller, the Luftwaffe ace pilot responsible for shooting down Lazarev, was himself shot down just two months later on April 19, 1943 by two Soviet fighters.
Muller was imprisoned in a Soviet gulag in Temnikov, Russia, but then shot dead on Oct. 21, 1943 after a failed attempt to escape. And like Boris Lazarev, he too was just 22 years old when he was killed.