Order of the Red Banner, 2nd award, Type 2, Variation 2, Sub-variation 1, #1370, awarded on 6 November 1942 to Ivan Svistunov.
Silver gilt, enamels. Measures 40.6 mm tall from the lowest point of the number plaque to the top of the banner, 36.0 mm wide; weight 23.2 grams without screw plate. The mint mark is two-word, "Monetnyi Dvor". This specimen is among the first Red Banners Second Award manufactured by the Krasnokamsk Mint in 1942, immediately after their production re-started there following the evacuation of large part of the mint facilities and workers from Leningrad. Although it is considered a Sub-Variation 1 according to the Strekalov classification, this piece has many highly uncommon features that set it apart from vast majority of the other Var. 2 "Monetnyi Dvor" screw backs, be it Sub-variation 1 or 2. The most striking feature perhaps is that the badge is noticeably thinner than the more common versions: it measures approx. 1.9 mm thick at the top edge of the banner and 2 mm thick at the bottom of the numeral plaque (vs about 2.5 mm for the "regular" versions of the Variation 2). Another noticeable difference is that the ridge and overall counter-relief on the reverse under the screw post are far more pronounced than on all the later issues. Note also the serial number engraved in very large font.
In very fine condition. Unlike many other early Red Banners, the order has not been converted to suspension. The screw post is original and besides being slightly reduced in length, basically unaltered. Its current length of about 9 mm is more than enough for proper functionality. The enamel on the banner is overall nicely preserved, very uncommon for any Red Banner of screw back type. There are some surface flakes along the edges and at some of the letters, but no penetrating chips. The red enamel does not show excessive wear or rubbing and retains very attractive luster. The center star is missing enamel on one of its arms and has microscopic contact marks and flakes on the other two arms. The red scroll has only some miniscule surface flakes and scratches that are practically unnoticeable without magnification. The white enamel has microscopic contact marks only, no significant wear.
The details of the torch, flagpole and wreath are very crisp, practically perfect. Much of the original gilt is present, although it is partly obscured by silver patina. The reverse is pristine, with magnificent untouched patina throughout. Overall, the order is a truly beautiful, essentially unaltered piece. It is in much better condition than vast majority of surviving screw back Red Banners including the first awards.
Ivan Svistunov was born in 1918 in a village of the Sumy Region of the Ukraine. He began service in the Red Army in December 1938. He took part in the Patriotic War literally since its first day on 22 June 1941 serving as an aerial gunner with the 745th Aviation Regiment of the Northwestern Front. Unlike many other Soviet airmen, he survived the disastrous first months of the war. His first missions, 31 in total, were flown on a DB-3F bomber. Among them were flights in support of the Western Front during the battle of Moscow. In February 1942 Svistunov was transferred to the 128th Bomber Aviation Regiment of the Kalinin Front. He retrained to become a gunner / radio operator of the new Pe-2 dive-bomber and in this capacity, flew 74 mostly bombing missions from June - May 1942. During that time, he also started to fly reconnaissance into deep rear of the enemy - an extremely difficult and dangerous task considering the nearly complete Luftwaffe dominance in the skies over Russia during that period of the war. On bombing runs Svistunov always employed his machine gun to the utmost to strafe the enemy positions. He also proved capable in repelling German fighters. On 2 May 1942, his Pe-2 was a part of a three-airplane group that bombed the enemy airdrome near Dugino State Farm. When attacked by fighters, Svistunov with assistance of the two other gunners shot down one of them - a very uncommon feat for a Pe-2 crewman.
On 30 May, Svistunov was nominated for a Medal for Valor jointly by the commander and commissar of the 128th Aviation Regiment. It is interesting to see that Svistunov's command wasn't aware of his prior combat service in the first months of the war, so only the 74 missions flown while serving with the 128th Regiment counted. The relatively humble recommendation was approved by the command of the 211th Aviation Division, but Hero of the Soviet Union Maj. General Gromov, Commander of the 3rd Air Army, personally crossed-out the "Valor Medal" in the proposed award entry and wrote "Order of the Red Banner" above. On 22 June 1942 - exactly one year since the start of the war - Svistunov was decorated with an Order of the Red Banner (#31731) by a decree of the Kalinin Front.
During the following month, Svistunov was transferred to the 11th Separate Reconnaissance Regiment. He continued to fly on a Pe-2, but now only for reconnaissance - clearly in recognition of his superior skills in both gunnery and radio communications. On 2 July his airplane was attacked by two German fighters, but Svistunov's fire kept them at bay allowing the Pe-2 to escape into the clouds. He proved extremely reliable in sending radio reports on movements and location of enemy troops. For example, on 10 September he detected and reported a massive column of 250 German motor vehicles on the road in the area of Yartsevo. By late September 1942, his total number of combat missions since the beginning of the war stood at 140. At that point, Svistunov was recommended for his second Order of the Red Banner. The award was bestowed upon him on 6 November 1942 thus making Sgt. Maj. Svistunov one of only NCOs who received the Red Banner more than once (nearly all other recipients of the sequential Red Banners were commissioned officers).
After receiving his second decoration, Svistunov added 72 additional reconnaissance missions to his already very impressive wartime total. His record of reliability was spotless: there had been not a single instance of communication breakdown in all of his sorties. On 15 different occasions he repelled enemy fighter attacks saving his airplane and the crew. Time and again, his airplane was sent for reconnaissance into the most critical sector of the front, the Smolensk - Orsha - Vitebsk triangle. This area had important railway hubs and some well-established stationary airfields, and it was accordingly protected by German AAA. Svistunov's crew flew into the midst of extremely heavy antiaircraft fire on 55 different occasions always completing their mission despite the danger. As an example of just one day's activity, on 7 January 1943 they detected 3 enemy railway trains at the Yartsevo Railway Station, found and reported 48 German airplanes on the airfields of Borovskoe and Smolensk, and found an additional 6 trains at the Smolensk Railway Station. As a member of the crew, Svistunov received numerous thank you notes from commander of his air squadron. He was also cited for superb performance by a special regimental decree and received personal thanks from the Chief of Staff of the 3rd Air Army. By 20 May 1943, Svistunov's overall number of combat missions had reached 212. If he had been a pilot, such a number of successful sorties would surely have made him eligible for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. He was just an NCO crewman however, and therefore got recommended for just an Order of the Patriotic War, 1st cl. This order #1544 - which turned out to be his last decoration of the war - was awarded to him on 2 June 1943. Svistunov survived the war and as of October 1946, was still on active duty in military aviation as a pilot of the 212th Special Purpose Air Unit. Interestingly he still had the rank of Sergeant Major at the time.
Research Materials: photocopy of the award record card and award commendations for the Order of the Red Banner 2nd award and the two other wartime orders.