Stormbirds over Borderland

It was in March 2019, while on cruise with Hurtigruten, the famous Norwegian postal ship route, when I heard about the small Borderland Museum at Kirkenes. The museum, located by the E6, the main route leading into Kirkenes’ town center, offers a rather unique attraction for the aviation enthusiast. The museum’s small main building is the home of a beautifully restored Ilyushin IL-2-3M “Sturmovik”. The aircraft’s history is quite remarkable. It was in October 1944 at the peak of the Petsamo-Kirkenes operation when First Lieutenant Alexander Tsjetsjulin from the 214th Airborne Assault Regiment was ordered to attack the strategically important Elvenes bridge near Kirkenes. The bridge had to be destroyed in order to obstruct further movements of the German troops in the area. Tsjetsjulin and seven other Sturmoviks from the regiment took off on October 22nd and flew several attacks on the bridge. Even though they had been able to hit their target, Tsjetsjulin’s plane had been badly damaged by German anti-aircraft fire so that his rear-gunner, 25 year old First Sergeant Nikolai Maximenko, came to the conclusion that their plane “is falling apart”. Tsjetsjulin decided to bring the Ilyushin down on a nearby lake. While Tsjetsjulin was able to survive the forced landing and the war, his gunner Maximenko misunderstood his commander and bailed out before the landing. He was later found dead, his parachute had not opened. Tsjetsjulin’s IL-2-3M had crashed in the Sennagress Lake on the Jarfjord Mountain and the wreckage remained there until 1972 when a first but unsuccessful attempt was made to recover the craft from the lake. During that attempt, the plane’s tail broke off and the aircraft was left at the lakes shore. A group of aviation enthusiasts from Norway and Russia recovered the aircraft’s remains in 1984. Finally a full rescue had been made possible with assistance from the Sør-Varanger Garrison. A group of volunteers, both from Norway and Russia, was formed with the aid from the Sør-Varanger Museum and a 5-year restoration period began and was successfully completed. So the Kirkenes’ Sturmovik is not only a beautifully restored piece of history. It became a remarkable symbol of post Cold War cooperation between the East and the West. The Border Museum in Kirkenes is open to the public from Monday to Sunday from 9:00 to 15:00 local time. For current information visit