He didn't want to conform to the stereotypical image of a "son of the leader". He became a great combat pilot and deserved his wartime medals. But he could not control his explosive temper, was eventually jailed, and his death is still shrouded in mystery.
Vasily Stalin, the son of Joseph Stalin and Nadezhda Alliluyeva, was raised in a special state boarding school from the age of two to six. Of course, it was a Kremlin school for the children of the highest-ranking Communist Party officials, but even the most loving nannies couldn't replace the boy's biological parents. Much like his wife, Joseph Stalin had little interest in his children. And when Nadezhda Alliluyeva committed suicide in 1932, Stalin turned all his attention to his daughter Svetlana, and almost entirely ignored Vasily.
Nadezhda Alliluyeva with her son Vasily
Vasily Stalin commented on the situation as follows: "Having been left without a mother, and unable to be brought up under the constant supervision of my father, I, in fact, grew up and was brought up in a circle of men (guards) who were not distinguished by morality and abstinence. This upbringing influenced my entire subsequent life and character. I started smoking and drinking early."
1. He was a combat pilot
Vasily Stalin in a cockpit
At the age of 17, Vasily Stalin enrolled in flight school, where he showed no interest in studying. However, he turned out to be a good pilot. After graduating from school as a lieutenant and having served as a fighter pilot for only several months, at the start of World War 2 Vasily was in charge of training other pilots. In December 1941, he was rapidly promoted and jumped straight to the rank of major from lieutenant without first becoming a captain. A few months later, he jumped to the rank of colonel, again, skipping a rank in between.
Starting in July 1942, Vasily fought on the front of the Great Patriotic War, commanding other pilots. General Sergei Dolgushin recalled: "Vasily Stalin commanded the regiment diligently, listened to us more experienced pilots. [...] During February - March 1943, we shot down a dozen enemy aircraft, three of them with Vasiliy's participation."
At the end of the war, the aviation division under the command of Vasily Stalin took part in the Berlin operation. According to the award documents for the Order of Suvorov II degree (awarded on May 11, 1945), Vasily "personally carried out 26 combat sorties and personally shot down two enemy aircraft."
In 1943, Vasily was wounded. However, the wound didn't result from combat. A group of pilots led by the young Stalin decided to go fishing, dropping bombs from planes so that they could then grab the fish with their hands. One of the bombs, however, exploded in such a way that one of the pilots was killed, and Vasily was wounded by a splinter in the heel. He spent about six months in a Moscow hospital for treatment. Upon learning about this incident, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin removed Vasily from the post of commander of the regiment and transferred him to the role of instructor pilot, but only for six months.
2. After the war he became an air force commander
During the war, Vasily twice received the Order of the Red Banner, the Order of Suvorov II degree and the Order of Alexander Nevsky. Then, in 1946, at the age of 25, he became a major general of aviation. These facts prove that the son of the leader advanced faster than any other military men. In 1948, Vasily became commander of the Air Force of the Moscow Military District and lived the life of a veritable 'rockstar' of the era. His house was a multi-room apartment with columns and stucco in the Sovetskaya Hotel - No. 301.
As head of the Air Force of the Moscow Military District, Vasily took over responsibility for the airfields destroyed by the war and the planes damaged in battle. This meant that he had to rebuild the air defenses of the Soviet capital from near ruin. As aircraft technician Viktor Sharkov recalled, under the leadership of the young Stalin "the endless training of pilots turned the nights of technical personnel, working in one and a half or two shifts, into sleepless ones. [...] Flights were not regulated by any documents. Failures and malfunctions, replacement of units, engines, and routine maintenance were carried out day and night."
Vasily took very good care of the front-line pilots and their families. He managed to launch the construction of a specialized 'pilot town' in Tushino (where one of the main Moscow airfields was located), and ensured the education of his men's children, as well as decent salaries for his subordinate officers. Ace pilot Sergei Kramarenko recalled: "Almost immediately after his appointment, we saw him at our airfield - this was shocking because we had never seen the previous commander in two years!" According to Kramarenko, "pilots loved Vasily Stalin. Even though he was the privileged son of the Soviet leader, he truly fought with his men in the Great Patriotic War, passing through Stalingrad and eventually reaching Berlin; for the front-line soldiers this meant a lot."
3. He patronized athletes
Vasiliy Stalin and the great hockey star Vsevolod Bobrov
In his position as head of the Air Force of the Moscow Military District, Vasily Stalin became active as a patron of sports - he put together football, hockey and basketball teams and organized a sports club for the Moscow Military District.
Legends of Soviet hockey, such as Anatoly Tarasov and Vsevolod Bobrov, worked "under the wing" of the sports club and its patrons. Vasily sought to allocate and provide the best to "his" athletes, which was later duly credited to him.
Vasily Stalin at a sports event in Moscow
"He achieved the creation of eight full-time sports teams with up to 300 people at the Air Force of the Moscow District, for the maintenance of which over 5 million rubles were spent annually... A privileged position was created for the athletes, they were provided with apartments, ranks were awarded, flight and technical uniforms were issued and significant funds were allocated for bonuses and satisfaction of their other whims, which infringed on the interests of the other military personnel" - Vasily Stalin's file reads.
4. He planned to create Soviet Formula 1
After the war, 18 "Auto Union Typ 650" cars were discovered in Saxony, Germany. They had been manufactured in 1940 to participate in the European Grand Prix of Motor Racing. This "find" was put to good use thanks to help from Vasily. The leader's son decided to create Soviet racing cars by making copies of the Auto Union cars with the help of his own engineers. Auto Union specialists in Zwickau, East Germany were joined by Soviet engineers in a group codenamed NTBA (Scientific and Technical Bureau of Automotive Engineering) that developed the Soviet car "Sokol-650".
In April 1952, two "Sokol-650s"' were sent to Moscow, where the young Stalin immediately planned to show them off at the city's motor racing championship. However, the Moscow Air Force technicians allegedly filled the cars' tanks with aviation fuel instead of high-octane gasoline, ultimately ruining the engines, fuel tract and ignition. Vasily's event failed, and the cars were returned to Germany, where, in 1957, they were used as props for a film.
5. He had a furious temper
Vasily Stalin smoking
"His state of health is weak. Short-tempered and irritable, he does not always know how to restrain himself. In dealing with subordinates, he is often rude; but sometimes trusts subordinates too much, even at a time when they are not prepared and are not able to fulfill the commander's decision. These shortcomings of a personal nature reduce his authority as a commander and leader," wrote Lieutenant General Yevgeny Savitsky in 1947 in a military report on Vasily Stalin.
During the war, a regiment under the command of Vasily was assigned to move out. By morning one of the engineers, Shiryayev, had not packed the necessary equipment. Having learned about this, the regiment commander (Vasiliy Stalin) gave the order for a general formation that clearly stated "for the execution of Captain Shiryayev." Fortunately, the captain had the good sense to hide in the forest until Stalin's outburst of anger subsided. Eventually, he was "pardoned."
Nikolai Yefimov, the mechanic of the plane on which Vasily flew, recalled that he "drank a lot, but did not get drunk." This was an eloquent detail that was consistent with Stalin's constant reported scandals and impulsive actions. Also, there was a rumor in Moscow that one night the young Stalin arrived at the Tushino airfield in a private car with a girl. He demanded that he be able to take a ride with his companion on a fighter jet.
On December 9, 1950, Professor Pyotr Ivanovich Egorov, the head of the Kremlin's Medical and Sanatorium Department, reported to Joseph Stalin: "Vasily Iosifovich suffers from exhaustion of the nervous system, chronic catarrh of the stomach and anemia. The cause of these diseases is excessive alcohol abuse. On November 16 [...] Vasily Iosifovich suddenly... developed an epileptic seizure..."
6. He was jailed after the death of his father
Vasily Stalin with his wife Yekaterina Timoshenko during Joseph Stalin's funeral service
Vasily's hardships began during his father's lifetime and, in fact, with his father's direct involvement. On July 27, 1952, after the parade of the Moscow Air Force Fleet at the Tushino airfield Vasily publicly cursed the commander-in-chief of the USSR Air Force Pavel Zhigarev, who was his immediate superior. This occurred in the presence of Stalin himself. According to rumors, Vasily was drunk.
Stalin immediately reminded his son how in May of the same year, after an air parade in Moscow, two of the newest Il-28 (Ил-28) planes crashed during landing. Vasily was then removed from the post of head of the Moscow Air Force.
After Stalin's death, Soviet Defense Minister Nikolai Bulganin, whom Vasily had repeatedly scolded and vilified in the past, gave the leader's son an ultimatum - to leave Moscow as commander of one of the military districts. Vasily flared up - this is a position not deserving of his status. However, he was dismissed to the reserves without the right to wear a military uniform, and to make things even worse, a month later he was arrested and sent to the Vladimir Central prison in the city of Vladimir.
Stalin was accused of corruption and slanderous statements about the heads of the Communist Party. So, the Party decided to remind the former Soviet leader's son who was now in charge, and as a result, he was sentenced to eight years in prison.
7. He died under mysterious circumstances
Vasily Stalin's cenotaph at a graveyard in Kazan
In the Vladimir prison, Vasily was held under the name of "Vasily Pavlovich Vasiliev", and worked as a mechanic and turner in the jail's workshop. No special conditions were made for him. Prison life eventually undermined his health. "He has been detained for six years and eight months. During this period of time, he was characterized positively by the prison administration. Currently, he has a number of serious diseases (heart disease, stomach, leg vessels and other ailments)," a 1960 file on Vasiliy Stalin reads.
At the request of the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, in January 1960 Vasily was released from prison, given an apartment in Moscow and assigned a pension. But the young Stalin soon ended up in a car accident with a foreign embassy car, and then, for some reason, he went to visit the embassy of China, a state with which Khrushchev had difficult relations. Vasily was quickly arrested, convicted again and sent back to prison.
On April 28, 1961, he was released upon the completion of his sentence, but he was no longer allowed to stay in Moscow. From among the proposed places of residence, the young Stalin chose Kazan. However, he only lived in this city for less than a year, and died just shy of his 41st birthday on March 19, 1962. (In early 1962 he had received a passport with the surname "Dzhugashvili," which was his father's original last name.)
Details of Vasily's death are unknown. "Alcohol abuse" was the reason officially cited by doctors. Allegedly, he drank a whole barrel of wine with some guests from Georgia. Many years later, in 1998, Vasily's third wife claimed that there was no autopsy and questioned the version of death from drinking. Vasily was buried without honors at a cemetery in Kazan. Only in 2002 were his remains reburied in Moscow.