Memorie.al publishes the unknown story of the special unit of personal military planes and helicopters of Enver Hoxha and the senior leadership of the ALP during the communist regime, through the rare testimonies of the former commander of the Aviation, Colonel Edip Ohri, who recalled the event of 1971, when the two highest leaders of the Albanian state, Enver Hoxha and Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu, expressed their desire and took a helicopter ride over the airspace of Tirana. Why did that trip of the two main leaders of the Albanian state alarm the senior leadership of the People’s Republic of China, who immediately summoned to the General Staff, Edip Ohrid, who was then on an official visit to Beijing and what did they tell him …?!
The first personal plane Enver had was an Ill-14 donated by the Soviets in 1957. In 1971, a more sophisticated type was donated by the Chinese. Those two planes and two others that were destined for senior leadership were deployed in a special detachment in Lapraka, Tirana, which was known as: The Leading Aircraft Detachment. The commander of that special detachment where the best specialists and pilots were concentrated, was Babaçe Faiku. These four planes had a special instruction approved by the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior, which had very strict rules that no one could imagine playing with. Any request made for the flight of Enver Hoxha and other members of the Politburo passed through the Second Directorate of the Ministry of Interior, which was intended to preserve and ensure the life of the senior leadership of the ALP. When it came to those planes moving, within the country, the request had to be made no less than 48 hours in advance, otherwise, categorically it would not have been accepted by us. While when it came to trips abroad, the announcement was made several days in advance, as long as visa procedures, etc. This ward, where the four government planes were located, was guarded by a very special service from the Republic Guard, and no one but Commander Babaçe Faiku could approach it. “Even I, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Combat Aviation, had no right to approach, without the permission and presence of the commander of that group, Babaçe Faik, who was also the first pilot of Enver Hoxha.” This is what the former commander-in-chief of the Albanian Air Force, retired colonel Edip Ohri, testified about the personal planes and helicopters of Enver Hoxha and the senior leadership of the ALP, as well as the event of 1971, when the two leaders the highest of the Albanian state, showed the desire and made a helicopter ride, traveling separately, which at that time alarmed the top leadership of the People’s Republic of China! Regarding these unknown events and incidents that occurred with helicopters in our country before the ’90s, we will get to know in this article, through the testimony of the former commander of the Aviation, and MP of the People’s Assembly, Colonel Edip Ohrid, who in 1980, was arrested and convicted as an “enemy of the people”!
Mr. Ohrid, when was the First Air Force established in Albania and what were the types of the first aircraft that came to our country at that time?
Albania had aircraft even during the Zog Monarchy and during the War, but the real weapon of the Albanian Combat Aviation was created on April 24, 1951, with some aircraft of the type “Jak-9” of the Second World War, of which were donated to us by the government of the Soviet Union. Given the fact that in those years there were many violations of Albanian airspace by foreign aircraft, the creation of the Air Force weapon was seen as an emergency. At that time, on the defensive side, land and sea were secured, and only the third dimension, the sky, was uncovered. In this context from the Soviet Union first came a squadron of aircraft (12 pieces), and then in 1955, (with the organization of the Air Defense troops) came some jets of the time, “Mig-15”.
What about the first helicopters when they came to Albania?
In 1957, a new weapon was added to the Albanian Air Force, the “Mi-1” (2 pieces) and “Mi-4” (6 pieces) helicopters, which were involved in an air detachment deployed in aviation field in Lapraka. Their force with the commander, Major Peço Polena, had already been trained in the Soviet Union and they came along with the respective helicopters. The arrival of those helicopters further strengthened the Albanian aviation, because in addition to fighter jets, the helicopter was widely used in the very rugged mountainous terrain that our country had. At the time, these helicopters were quite good and those types were also in use in the Warsaw Pact. It is worth noting that all armaments, and in particular aviation (replacement parts and technical assistance) we received free of charge from the Soviet Union, under the Warsaw Pact, to which we acceded at the time. The Soviets even insisted that the Albanian army be supplied with helicopters, saying: “Helicopters are necessary in the conditions of the rugged terrain that Albania has.”
What about neighboring countries, such as Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia, what helicopters were available at the time?
They had American helicopters receiving them directly from the US, while Yugoslavia received them via Greece, which was regularly supplied with weapons by the Americans.
How many helicopters did our country have at that time and how many of them were available to the senior leadership of the ALP?
From 1957 to 1967, when Albania de jure withdrew from the Warsaw Pact, our country had in use only those 8 helicopters that it had received from the Soviet Union. Until ’67, none of the top leadership boarded or traveled by those helicopters, with the exception of a few senior military personnel, on special occasions. Enver Hoxha had his personal “Ill-14” plane donated to him by the Soviet government and he used it while he was alive. No one else had the right to travel on that plane. While the first helicopters we got from the Soviet Union, took 12 people, but were not comfortable. In addition to the army that was in use, during those years they were also destined for civil emergencies of various kinds, such as: cases of earthquakes, floods, illness, women giving birth, distribution of food, aid, etc. They were even used for the electrification of the place, but since they were few, in the first place we kept them for ourselves.
Given their widespread use, were not a few, 8 helicopters, for a highly militarized country like Albania?
In ’57, when Marshal Zhukov came to Albania, a large exercise took place based in Voskopoja, where the transport of heavy artillery parts was carried out by mule. He was very surprised and said: “I should no longer see mules carrying weapons. “Ask them to be removed and we will bring you helicopters to transport the artillery equipment.” But Zhukov was fired upon his arrival in Moscow, and with the breakdown of relations with the Soviet Union, that remained unfulfilled. The arrival of other helicopters became possible only on December 6, 1967, from China. After severing ties with the Russians and forging closer ties with China, the General Staff of the Chinese Army immediately accepted our request to equip helicopters, calling it grounded and necessary. Together with 12 “An-2” planes, the Chinese immediately gave us 36 helicopters, with which we created the Farka regiment with commander, Lulo Musain. All the staff of that unit, pilots and technical engineers, were trained in Albania. Like the Warsaw Pact, China gave priority to the use of helicopters in Albania. Even in 1971 when I was in China with the Minister of Defense, Beqir Balluku, the Chinese promised us “MI-6” helicopters (the best for the time) with turbo-propellers, but after the cooling of relations between the two countries that did not happen realized. After 1967, the use of helicopters for civilian emergencies increased dramatically.
Who had the right to order the take-off of helicopters in flight?
Only the Ministry of Defense ordered their use. She commanded the Air Defense Command and she commanded the Aviation Command, in this case, me personally. No plane or helicopter could take off without going through these hierarchical procedures which were documented with the utmost accuracy. Based on the mission they were going to perform and the features that were to be fulfilled, day or night, the General Aviation Command also assigned the appropriate crew to fly. Constantly a couple of helicopters stood at full alert along with the crew.
What about senior leadership were there special helicopters?
Two of the 36 helicopters given to us by the Chinese in ’67 were for passenger transport, equipped with armchairs for six people. They were destined for the senior leadership of the ALP, but Enver and Mehmet never boarded those two helicopters, which were widely used by other members of the Politburo and those of the Ministry of Defense. Along with those helicopters, the Chinese also donated three Ill-14 aircraft. One was for Enver, one for general use, and one for aerial photography service, etc. These three planes, together with what the Soviets had given to Enver in 1957, were installed in a special detachment in Lapraka, Tirana, which was called: The Government Aircraft Detachment and its commander was Babaçe Faiku.
During the time you were in charge of the Albanian Aviation, but also after that, until the ’90s, were there any incidents with helicopters?
From 1957 when the first helicopters arrived until 1989, when the tragic accident with the two helicopters that crashed in Qafë i Llogarasë, where they had gone to pick up the students injured in their bus, there were only four helicopter incidents., but without any casualties. The first two incidents with Mi-2 helicopters occurred during various exercises in 1957 in Shijak and Tirana. During the crash they were badly damaged and as a result were taken out of use. A year later, in 1958, another Mi-4 helicopter crashed during a training exercise in Voskopoja. He fell during takeoff crashing to the ground, but to no avail for his crew.
What about the fourth helicopter?
The fourth helicopter crashed somewhere in the early 1970s, in Fush-Lirëz of Skrapar (near Helmës) where the anniversary of the first Communist Youth Congress was celebrated. Ramiz Alia or the Chief of General Staff, Petrit Dume, were scheduled to attend the celebration. We had it as work practice, since when any of the leadership wanted to travel, we did a rehearsal. That helicopter also crashed during rehearsals to land there and was eventually taken out of use.
Was anyone responsible for these incidents?
Of course, we did, I in the first place as Commander-in-Chief of Aviation. For all four of these incidents, there have been various sentencing measures, but not severe ones.
Apart from these four incidents, were there any others until 1990?
There were none other than those two helicopters at Qafë i Llogarasë in 1989, which are already known to the public since the day the tragedy occurred.
Testimony of the former Aviation Commander: “In 1971, Enver and Mehmeti made the first helicopter ride”
The former commander-in-chief of the Albanian Air Force, retired colonel Edip Ohri, also recalled the first helicopter trip of the two highest leaders of the Albanian communist state, Enver Hoxha and Mehmet Shehu. In this regard, he testified: “In ’71, Enver expressed the desire, together with Mehmet Shehu, to make a helicopter trip to the region of Tirana. I was in China at the time and that trip was organized and prepared by my deputy, along with the entire General Aviation Command, who selected the best pilots. After many preparations and among very high security measures, that trip of Enver and Mehmet was carried out, but separately in two helicopters. At the end of the trip which did not last more than 30 minutes for each, Enver and Mehmeti were satisfied and appreciated and praised the work of our pilots. But on the same day, I was summoned to the General Staff of the Chinese Army, where I was severely reprimanded for allowing Enver and Mehmeti to travel in series planes. There they told me: “We found out that Enver and Mehmeti flew with series planes. Why did you do this? This is intolerable. “Tell us to send you special helicopters.” Shortly after that meeting I sent a radiogram about what the Chinese had told me and in the years that followed it was not repeated. Based on that benevolent advice of the Chinese, Enver and Mehmeti no longer flew with those two helicopters, while other members of the Politburo, etc., used them extensively afterwards “. This is how the former head of the Albanian Air Force remembered the first helicopter trip of Enver and Mehmet, adding that the flight of the two senior leaders cost him a lot personally, years later when he was arrested and convicted as ” enemy of the people”. Ohrid recalls that Sulo Gradeci in his book “30 years near the commander”, to aggravate me, wrote that: “The helicopter flight of Enver and Mehmet, was done with a purpose determined by Edip Ohrid”.
Colonel’s testimony: “The special detachment of Enver’s personal plane was guarded by the Republic Guard and I had no right to approach there either”!
The former Commander-in-Chief of the Albanian Air Force, Colonel Edip Ohri, recalled that during the communist regime before the 1990s, there was a special detachment for Enver Hoxha’s leadership and personal aircraft. In this regard, he said: “The first personal plane that Enver had was an” Ill-14 “donated by the Soviets in 1957. In 1971 such a bit more sophisticated type was donated by the Chinese. . Those two planes and two others that were destined for senior leadership were deployed in a special detachment in Lapraka, Tirana, which was known as: The Leading Aircraft Detachment. The commander of that special detachment where the best specialists and pilots were concentrated, was Babaçe Faiku. These four planes had a special instruction approved by the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior, which had very strict rules that no one could imagine playing with. Any request made for the flight of Enver Hoxha and other members of the Politburo passed through the Second Directorate of the Ministry of Interior, which was intended to preserve and ensure the life of the senior leadership of the ALP. When it came to those planes moving, within the country, the request had to be made no less than 48 hours in advance, otherwise, categorically it would not have been accepted by us. While when it came to trips abroad, the announcement was made several days in advance, as long as visa procedures, etc. This ward, where the four government planes were located, was guarded by a very special service from the Republic Guard, and no one but Commander Babaçe Faiku could approach it. Neither I, as the General Commander of the Aviation Aviation, had the right to approach, without the permission and presence of the commander of that group, Babaçe Faik, who was also the first pilot of Enver Hoxha. (The second pilot was Hamit Ulqinaku, the son of the “People’s Hero”, Mujo Ulqinaku). From 1957 until Enver Hoxha was alive, this detachment of planes flew to almost all countries of the communist East (People’s Democracies) and as far as Italy, without having the slightest breakdown. Their overhaul was initially carried out in the former Soviet Union, and after the break-up of relations with official Moscow, until the end of the 1980s, it took place in Romania. “There was no safer place than Romania for the repair of those planes, which the Romanians did with a very high guarantee, as the message was for Enver Hoxha”. / Memorie.al