Nelson Stepanyan

Nelson Stepanyan
Nelson Stepanyan
Nickname "Storm Petrel of the Baltic Sea"
Born March 28, 1913 (1913-03-28)
Shusha, Elisabethpol Governorate, Russian Empire
Died December 14, 1944 (1944-12-15)
Liepāja, Latvian SSR
Allegiance Soviet Union
Service/branch Red Air Force
Years of service 1930 - 1944
Rank Lieutenant-Colonel
Unit 57th Division, 8th Air Brigade, 2nd Air Squadron;
47th Fighter Division
Commands held Guards unit 47th "Theodosia" Fighter Division
Battles/wars Siege of Leningrad
Baltic Offensive
Awards Hero of the Soviet Union Hero of the Soviet Union[1]
Order of Lenin (2)
Order of the Red Banner (3)

Nelson Gevorgi Stepanyan (Armenian: Նելսոն Գևորգի Ստեփանյան, Russian: Нельсон Георгиевич Степанян, Nelson Gevorkovich Stepanyan; March 28 [O.S. March 15] 1913 – December 14, 1944) was a Soviet Armenian dive bomber pilot during the second World War in the Red Air Force. He was twice awarded with the military title of the Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest title in the former USSR.




Stepanyan was born in Shusha, Elisabethpol Governorate in 1913, but moved with his family to Yerevan at an early age. Stepanyan attended the Transcaucasian Preparatory Military School, graduating in 1930. He continued his studies, graduating from the Bataisk Naval Aviation School in 1935 and later becoming a flight instructor at the school from 1935 to 1938.[2]

Military service

Stepanyan was teaching at another military flight academy when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. He volunteered for combat and participated in a multitude of aerial battles as a pilot of an Ilyushin Il-2 fighter bomber. He defended the skies over Leningrad while he was a member of the 57th Division, 8th Air Brigade, 2nd Air Squadron.[2] After he was promoted to the rank of major in 1943, he became the commander of the 47th Fighter Division. With his unit, he took part in the Soviet offensives around Sevastapol, Theodosia, and Sudak (in the Crimea); for its efforts, the 47th Fighter Division was named after the town of Theodosia.[3] In May 1944, his fighter division returned to the Baltic and took part in several more battles against the Germans and the Finns.[2]

As of November 1942, Stepanyan was reported to having destroyed 78 German trucks, 67 tanks, 63 anti-aircraft guns, nineteen mortars, 36 railroad cars, twenty merchantmen and warships (including a destroyer), thirteen fuel tankers, twelve armored cars, seven long-range guns, five ammunition dumps, five bridges.[4]

Stepanyan was also shot down over enemy lines, although friendly guerrilla fighters aided him to reach back Soviet lines. Stepanyan was called "Storm Petrel of the Baltic Sea,"[2] and was awarded twice with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union (the second one was given posthumously).

On his final sortie in Liepāja, Latvia on December 14, 1944, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and though wounded, he rammed his own plane into a German warship.[2] Stepanyan's loss devastated the rest of the men in the squadron. His fellow pilots sent the following letter to his parents after his death:

[Stepanyan was a] clear and modest man, close and beloved by all; he was a father and teacher to all of us, a friend and a commander....We all wept when Nelson Gevorgovich failed to return on that fateful day. They say that tears bring comfort. But the few tears of a soldier, like the red-hot drops of metal, burn the heart and call for vengeance.[5]

Soviet sources assert that Stepanyan had undertaken no less than 239 combat sorties, sunk 53 ships thirteen of which he did alone, destroyed 80 tanks, 600 armored vehicles, and 27 aircraft.[2]


A monument of Stepanyan in the town of Shusha.

There were four statues dedicated to him: one in Yerevan, the second in Liepāja, the third in Stepanakert and the last in his home town of Shusha; however, the one in Shusha was destroyed by Azeris.[6][unreliable source?] The statue from Liepāja was going to be destroyed too by the order of the new independent Latvian authorities, but it was rescued by the Russian Navy, located in Liepāja until mid-1990s, and it was transported to Kaliningrad and is now placed near the Baltic Fleet Naval Aviation headquarters in Kaliningrad, Russia. During the Soviet era, a large fishing trawler and Pioneer detachments were named after him.[2]


  1. ^ Stepanyan was conferred with his second Hero of the Soviet Union, posthumously, on March 6, 1945.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g (Armenian) Anon. «Ստեփանյան, Նելսոն Գևորգի» (Stepanyan, Nelson Gevorgi). Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia. vol. xi. Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1985, p. 130.
  3. ^ (Armenian) Khaleyan, Yervand M. "Սովետական Հայաստանը Հայրենական Մեծ Պատերազմի Հաղթական Ավարտի Շրջանում" ("Soviet Armenia in the Final Victorious Stage of the Great Patriotic War"). History of the Armenian People. vol. viii. Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1970, p. 126.
  4. ^ "What Can One Man Do?" Time Magazine. November 16, 1942. Retrieved May 23, 2006.
  5. ^ The pilots who wrote this letter were, among others, airmen Fokin, Lazarev, Klimov, Skayev, Popov, Udaltsov: Khaleyan. "Soviet Armenia", p. 130.
  6. ^ Chronology of military and political events in Karabakh. Accessed July 31, 2008.

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