A short biography of the anarchist who defected to the Bolsheviks and became the first commander of the Soviet air force and was later executed.
1. From anarchist to first commander of the Soviet Air Force
“It was necessary to organize an aviation service. I called up an engineer-pilot, Akashev, who, though an anarchist by conviction, was working with us. Akashev showed his initiative and quickly rounded up an air squadron. At last we got with its help a full picture of the enemy front; the command of the Fifth army had come out of the dark. The fliers made daily air raids on Kazan, and a frenzy of alarm took hold of the city.” Trotsky, My Life.
Konstantin Akashev was born on the 22nd October 1888, at Mahalino Lyutinskogo in the Vitebsk region of Belorussia, the son of a peasant family. He progressed through the education system and graduated in Dvinsk. In 1906 he was active with the Social Revolutionaries, involving himself in education work among the peasantry in Lyutinskogo. He moved to St Petersburg because of the threat of arrest. Here he became an anarchist communist at the end of the year. During 1907 he was extremely active leading anarchist agitation and propaganda in the city and in Kiev. He was involved in the illegal distribution of the anarchist communist paper Buntar(Rebel). He was arrested on the 14th April in Kiev, carrying the false papers of one Alexander Petrovich Milyaev, and was accused of being involved in a failed assassination attempt on Prime Minister Stolypin. He was kept in Lukyanovskaya prison until late July 1907 then transferred to St Petersburg where he had limited liberty under police surveillance. In 1908 he was acquitted for lack of evidence but by the end of May was exiled to Turukhansk in Siberia for 4 years under police supervision.
He was described in police reports as having chestnut hair, blue eyes, a long straight nose, a small red moustache, thin and often wearing light grey lounge suits and a light grey felt hat.
In March 1909 he escaped and fled to Algeria and then lived in Berlin and Munich before moving to Paris. In August 1910 he moved to Italy and enrolled in December in the Caproni flight school in Milan, receiving his pilot’s diploma in June 1911. Between 1912-14 he was at the Higher Institute of Aviation and Mechanics in Paris from which he received an engineering diploma. A report from an agent in France to the Tsarist secret services made the claim that he was involved in preparations by anarchists to construct five warplanes out of light steel. These were to be used to mount an attack on the Tsar on his royal yacht Standard in the Gulf of Finland! Whether this was true or an attempt by the agent at self-justification remains to be seen, bearing in mind that no such attack was attempted. He was one of the “anarcho-patriots” who like Kropotkin took the side of the Allies in the First World War. He volunteered for the French air force and was enrolled in a military aviation school, subsequently participating in some of the battles on the front. In May 1915 he returned to Russia, where he was arrested.
He filed a petition for the dismissal of his case in June of that year, and tried to enter the Russian aviation industry and the air force. His reliability was questioned. He then worked as a test pilot in St Petersburg up to early 1916 and then served as a technical director in the aviation industry. He appears to have maintained his connection with the anarchist communists, serving as secretary of the Petrograd Anarchist Communist Club which was established secretly in 1916-17.
He participated in the February Revolution and was active in the anarchist agitation during the July Days and then in the October Revolution. Anarchist and Bolshevik objectives coincided over the overthrow of the Kerensky regime and Akashev served on the committee that coordinated the uprising. Disguised as an officer he brought two artillery batteries out of the Winter Palace, a crucial event in the October Revolution. The following month he became a Commissar of the Department of the Military Air Fleet. In 1918 was elected as the Chair of the all union college of air fleet management. In December of the same year was appointed as a chief commander of aviation and the air fleet of the southern front. In August-September 1919 he commanded an air group formed to combat the White cavalry of General Mamontov. He personally flew the airplane Ilya Muromets, bombing the enemy cavalry. From March, 1920-February, 1921, Akashev again served primarily as the commander of the Soviet air forces.In 1922 he took part in international aviation conferences in London and Rome. The last years of his life were spent in management roles on aviation production plants of Leningrad and Moscow. It appears that he never officially joined the Communist Party.
He was arrested in 1929 accused of counter-revolutionary activity but was released after a hunger strike. He was again arrested at the beginning of March 1930. On March 3 Akashev was "repressed", accused of spying and arrested without any grounds—and either died after a severe beating by the NKVD or was executed on September 4, 1931. He was rehabilitated posthumously.