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Other vital numbers included 44, 32 and 14, but the all-important one for the saleroom and vendor was the result: a hammer price of £120,000 (£144,000 including buyer’s commission).

Forty-four was the total of decorations and medals won by Soviet air ace Andrei Borovykh in his long career, on offer in the May 10-11 auction with an estimate of £10,000-15,000.

He shot down at least 32 Axis aircraft during the Second World War and shared 14 other victories accumulated over three fronts.

A master exponent of the dogfight, Borovykh regularly engaged enemy formations, where he was often outnumbered by at least three to one. Despite this and the limitations of his aircraft, he managed to shoot down two enemy aircraft in one day on seven separate occasions.

His gallantry and skill led to him being made a Hero of the Soviet Union twice, receiving the Order of Lenin twice and the Order of the Red Banner on five occasions. All of these together with numerous other decorations and medals from the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries were in the lot sold at DNW along with an archive of original documents.

Despite being shot down and wounded in 1943, Borovykh survived the war and went on to become commander-in-chief of the Soviet Union’s air defences from 1969-77. He died in November 1989 and is buried in Moscow.

Russian retrievals

Just as Chinese buyers have been increasingly buying back their country’s historical items, Russians look at international sales for lots related to the Motherland.

“We had an unparalleled level of interest from Russian collectors prior to the sale and it became increasingly clear that we would have fiercely competitive bidding at the auction,” said Mark Quayle, a DNW medals specialist.

“Our predictions proved correct and we are delighted that Borovykh’s remarkable group of decorations and medals has gone to a Russian buyer.”

Would-be buyers in the saleroom and on the phone competed with commission bidders until one of the latter finally beat off rivals. Quayle adds: “This spectacular price reflects both the extraordinary achievements of one of the Soviet Union’s most brilliant fighter aces and the strength of the market for Russian orders, decorations and medals.”

The awards were consigned to DNW from an Australian private collection, and Quayle says the market for world orders and decorations “is very healthy” and DNW is receiving an increasing number of consignments.

He adds: “We believe that this is a sector of our sales that will continue to grow in the months and years ahead.”