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U.S. Navy top brass praises Russian-American cooperation, respect and professionalism

High-respected Vice-Admiral of the US Navy Patrick Bellinger

When Hitler virtually destroyed the Soviet air force, top-secret Project Zebra, a pet project of Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, became a priority. But making the mission an operational success fell into the capable hands of the U.S. Navy’s highly-decorated Vice Admiral Paul Bellinger, the Navy’s Number Two at the time.

Initially skeptical, Bellinger followed orders. He devised an innovative production plan to manufacture 185 of the largest amphibious warplanes ever made at the Naval Air Factory in Philadelphia. Then he hand-selected 11 Navy officers to ferry the 11-crew planes with giant red Soviet stars to the small town of Elizabeth City, North Carolina (population: 12,000). There, the American officers and their support staff quietly trained 300 Soviet airmen transported to the United States under the cover of night.

To lead the men, he appointed Lt. Col. Stanley Chernack, a man of Russian decent, who spoke no Russian, and an MIT graduate, Lt. Gregory Gagarin, who was the immigrant son of Russian aristocracy, and spoke perfect Russian. Together the three gained the confidence of the Soviet airman and the
surrounding town of Elizabeth City.

Seventy-two years later, the previously classified papers of Chernack were discovered in a Burbank, California, basement. Among the never-before seen-pictures and documents was a letter from Bellinger to the Secretary of the Navy praising the “extraordinary professional and sensitive handling of one of the most extraordinary partnerships in military history.” This story, and many other human-interest moments have become the basis of a new book by critically-acclaimed author M.G. Crisci. Project Zebra. Stalin and Roosevelt’s Top-Secret Mission to Train 300 Soviet Airmen in America. (Orca
Publishing USA, $32.95, hardcover, 354 pp and 200+ photographs).

“Since Project Zebra was only declassified by the Navy in late 2012, I believe this is the first book ever about the mission, the town’s supportive relationship, and the lifetime friendships the Soviet and American Zebras would cultivate through the Cold War and beyond,” said Crisci. “And the fact that the mission’s lone survivor, Gregroy Gagarin, recalled intimate details and had saved so many key documents, made this book a unique piece of American military history.”

Two respected Washington DC cross-cultural organizations, the Eurasia Center Worldwide and the American-Russian Cultural Foundation, call the book, “a lesson for future generations” and “an unknown heroic memoir in US-Soviet relations that serves as a historic signpost.”

Manhattan-born M.G. Crisci ( is the author of ten books based on true stories or real events in the genres of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and romance. His most recent book, The Salad Oil King. An American Tale of Greed Gone Mad (Orca Publishing USA), has been hailed by critics as an
“American crime classic spun by a master story-teller.” Recently, Crisci, a 22-time selectee to Who’s Who in the World, received the Albert Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award for his business, literary, and cultural contributions (

DATE: Feb.23.2018 | CATEGORY: | COMMENTS: 0