I was born in 1924 in the Urals, in the town of Osa of Perm Oblast. In 1941 I finished the ten-grade standard school. Military and physical trainings were my favorite subjects in school. Even though my height then was just one hundred and sixty-two centimeters with weight fifty-two kilograms, I was considered to be a perfect athlete: I had gained the first amateur ski rank and had always been a helper to my school teachers of those disciplines. I was fond of military training and had plans for entering a naval training school after finishing school. What fancy uniforms they had!
Well, we knew that the war was brewing. Around February and March when the reservists’ recall began to roundout military units many young teachers left our school … We didn’t strive to learn the German language, fools! Whenever the teacher told us that at war we would regret it, we boasted: “It’s okay, at war we will talk to the Germans in the language of cannons and machine guns. They don’t deserve any other talk.” By the end of the war when I was in command of a tank company and later on of a tank battalion we captured POWs, but couldn’t interrogate them, because the only things we could say in German were: “Hȁnde hoch!” (Put your hands up!) and “Weg!” (Move!). Then we really regretted it..
On the 20th of June we had a prom and on the 21st of June our class went to the country for a picnic. All took along whatever food they had: potatoes, sausages, bacon. Then we neither drank vodka nor petted with girls, just huddled up at night; you would touch her and feel an electric impulse run across your body.
On Sunday afternoon returning to the town we heard loud weeping. “Is anybody being beaten?” – We thought. Little boys ran toward us each with a stick held between their legs and another stick in hand – a saber, like riders on imaginary horses, shouting: “The War! The War!” and ‘sabering’ the imaginary enemy. We ran home. In about forty minutes all my classmates were in the military commissariat (military registration and enlistment office). I was so afraid that I wouldn’t get a chance to be at war! We thought that the war wouldn’t last longer than two to three months.
The military commissariat then resembled an anthill. Recruit parties were dispatched incessantly and by September the town was deserted. All the males under forty had gone. Women, old men and we, the youth under seventeen ineligible for drafting, were the only ones left. I must say that the disaster of the 1941 retreats was not really felt in our hinterland. We were far from the battlefront anyway. We did not feel that the Germans were approaching, but certainly came to understand that the enemy was strong and the war was becoming protracted. All summer long I camped out on the doorsteps of the military commissariat. And not until the 15th of September as the youth ski champion of district and oblast was I sent to the 1st detached ski ranger battalion, which was being formed.
The training program lasted one month. But why did I need training? I might well have been an instructor myself. So for the most part I was helping the commanders who themselves were not good ski masters. In November we were put on a train and sent to Kalinin. Right at the station where the troop train was being unloaded we were caught by an air raid, after which I found myself in a hospital with a shoulder wound and concussion. As I found out later, out of three hundred and sixty men of the enlisted staff of the battalion, only slightly more than forty had survived …
After my hospital stay I was sent to the city of Perm for air technical school. I bristled: “I don’t want to be an air technician; I want to be a commander!” After having troubles with me in summer of 1942 they sent me to the Stalingrad tank training school. When the Germans approached the city the cadets who had been in the school at least three months, were sent to the front, and we, the newcomers, were evacuated to the city of Kurgan. Our train was the last to leave Stalingrad in early September under intense air bombardment.
In Kurgan the training school was deployed and the training, as such, began. We studied the Т-37, Т-28, T-26, BT-7, BТ-5 and Т-34 tanks. I must say that the training base there was very poor. After the war I saw a German training facility in Austria; it was much better. For example, our gun targets were fixed ones, machine gun targets – pop-up/pop-down ones. What does it mean pop-up/pop-down targets? There was a trench with a soldier and a telephone in it through which he was given a command to deploy and retract the target. A target was supposed to be up five to six seconds, but in reality one soldier would hold it up a little longer, while the other one – a little less. In the German range there was a system of pulleys controlled by one big wheel, which operated gun and machine gun targets. The wheel was driven by hand and the faster it was turned, the shorter the time the target appeared. German tankers were better trained and facing them in battle was very dangerous. When I finished training school I had only fired three gun rounds and one machine gun pan magazine. Was that real training? We were trained a little driving BT-5 tanks. They taught us the basics: how to start off and drive straight. There were tactics classes, but primarily “tank walking” (on foot acting as if we were in a tank). Only in the end was there a demonstration of “a tank platoon on the offensive”. That was it! Our basic training was very poor, though we knew the T-34 tank configuration fairly well.
Classes in the training school lasted for twelve hours, while we were fed poorly. We so much weakened that to save strength just half of our company went for dinner. One half went and brought back food for the other half. Our mess consisted of a morsel of bread and some thin broth. Convicts were likely to be fed better. The mess was ladled into a bowl and while a cadet was supping his own helping the grits or flour of the other helping which he was supposed to bring to the company quarters would settle to the bottom of the bowl. The cadet then would pour the water off, decanting the remaining thick stuff into an enameled mug, put a morsel of bread on top and bring it over. You would eat it and the next day you deployed. We had winter uniforms: caps, greatcoats, and boots with puttees (cloth wrappings), everything was of secondhand. And you know, despite near starvation and the hard hitting news from the front, neither my comrades nor I were discouraged or manifested any signs of hurt morale. We were dying to go to the front! We knew that the food and clothes would be better there. We were romantics; we wanted to fight. When I arrived at the front in the beginning I played war also and stopped doing that only when I went for a reconnaissance in force, but I will talk about that later.
I spent four months in training school. The training program was designed for six months. However, we, the best twenty-seven cadets were released ahead of schedule. Though, here is an example of how were some of us “dying to go to the front”; originally there were twenty-eight of us assembled, but only twenty-seven released. One man had failed the final exams. And who do you think he was? An engineer by education. Then we thought how unlucky he was! How naïve we were! He was a thirty-three or thirty-four year old man; he had family and two children and apparently was not so eager to go to the front.
After finishing training school in April of 1943 the rank of lieutenant was conferred on me and I was certified to the tank platoon leader’s position right away. We were loaded onto a troop train and sent to Chelyabinsk, the 6th Reserved Tank Regiment, to pick up tanks. Our tanks were not ready yet and since there was a lack of workforce my fellows and I went to work at the tank factory. Having quickly mastered a semi-automatic lathe there, I worked two more weeks on cylinder block boring. We worked for free, literarily for meal tickets. When the factory released about twenty or thirty tanks it was possible to put together a troop train. By that time the crews had already been assembled. We received a tank and undertook a fifty kilometer march to the firing range where each fired three gun rounds and a machine gun pan magazine, thereafter the tank was considered to be ready for dispatching to the front. We returned to the factory, washed the tanks and to the accompaniment of the factory band loaded up onto a troop train.
In June of 1943 we arrived in the vicinity of Kursk where we integrated into the strength of the 2nd Tanks Corps, which was positioned then in the second echelon of defense. Literarily a few days after our arrival the Battle of Kursk broke out. There I experienced my first battle, but since it was defensive, not offensive, it didn’t stick in my memory, becoming one with the other six-day defensive battles that followed. In some areas we fended off the attacks, retreated and then counterattacked together with infantry. Now there are some tellers who so vividly tell and recall the names of populated places where they fought that it makes me wonder. How do I remember those populated places?! By now I have told many times about those battles and visited those places and only then remembered Mayachky and Voroshilov Soviet Farm. How could I have remembered them during the war? We were advancing somewhere, shooting, spinning around. If you were a Т-34-76 tank commander you did everything yourself: fired a gun, delivered commands on radio. And when a solid shot knocked you, you’d realize that you had been hit.
Was it scary? It wasn’t scary for me inside the tank. Of course when receiving an assignment there was inner stress. You knew that you would be on the attack and might die. That thought itched inside your head and you couldn’t get away from it. Once you got inside your tank the anxiety was still there, but when you were in battle you would begin forgetting about that. You were carried away with battle, advancing and firing the gun. If a crew was well trained, firing the gun was very quick. Are you on target? – a "shortstop", one shot, another, you would sway your gun from right to left, spinning, crying out: "Armor-piercing round! Fragmentation round!" The engine was roaring – no shell bursts were actually heard, and when you would begin firing yourself you would stop hearing what was going on outside all together. And only when a solid shot or a fragmentation round flopped on your armor you did realize that somebody was firing at you also. Besides, gunpowder fumes accumulated inside the turret during firing. In wintertime fans kept up with exhausting of those fumes, but in hot summertime weather they didn’t. Sometimes I would cry out to the gun loader: “Load the fragmentation round!" He was supposed to respond: "Aye, fragmentation round, sir!" – I pushed him: "Is the fragmentation round ready?" But he wouldn’t answer. I looked and saw him unconscious, lying on the gun rounds rack – intoxicated by those fumes. Whenever an intense battle was going on a rare gun loader would resist the fumes through its end. He was moving around more than other crew members and an 85 mm gun round weighed 32 kg, so his general stress was very intense. The radio operator/machine gunner, commander and the driver/mechanic never fainted. So I never had fear inside the tank at all. It was a little scary when your tank was knocked down and you evacuated the burning tank. There was no time for fear inside the tank when you were busy.
In the battle of Prokhorovka our corps, in the beginning, was in the second echelon supporting the engagement of other corps and only then did we move forward. The distance between tanks was no more than one hundred meters, the only thing they could do was fidgeting, no maneuvering. It was not war, but tank slaughter. They crawled and fired. Everything was on fire. An inexpressible stench was in the air of the battlefield. Everything was so covered with smoke, dust and fire that it seemed that twilight had fallen. The air force bombed all. Tanks and vehicles were on fire. Communications did not work. All cables were rolled over by tank tracks. Radio communications were jammed. What were the communications? Someone was transmitting a voice radio signal and suddenly got killed, the radio would remain in transmit mode and cause the radio channel to be blocked. Switching to the reserve radio channel would be required, but whoever knew when? At eight o’clock in the morning we went on the attack and clashed with the Germans right away. About one hour later my tank was knocked down. A shell flew from somewhere and hit the tank’s side, knocked off an idle wheel and a primary roller wheel. The tank stopped, veering slightly. We bailed out right away and went on crawling towards a shell crater. Any repairs were out of the question. It was Prokhorovka! If a tank was immobilized it had to be abandoned. If you were not killed at once the next enemy tank would come up and finish you off. The tanks fired pot shots. I took over another tank but presently it was burned down also. A shell hit its engine compartment. The tank went ablaze and all of us bailed out. We got into a shell crater and were sitting there, shooting back. Well, while in the tank I didn’t play the fool either: I had killed a 75 mm gun, while it was being readied to fire, and burned down a Panzer III. The battle lasted approximately until 7 PM and we had incurred major casualties. Out of sixty-five tanks in the brigade only about twenty-five had survived. The first day gave us the impression that the losses of both belligerents were pretty much the same. Most importantly, they still had reserves, and we didn’t. On the night of the 12th of July we received an order to go on the defensive and for the next three days we were dealing with enemy counterattacks. In the beginning I had no tank. I was in the brigade’s officer reserve. Later I was given a tank again. “Horseless” tank platoon and combat tank commanders were in reserve. Once a commander was demanded you would go to take up a tank. Tank company and battalion commanders were in battle until they had run out of the last tanks in their units.
You are asking if it was scary to take up another tank after your previous tank was knocked down. As it’s said the shot down airmen were scared and they strived to avoid further battlefront service. Let the airmen not talk rubbish. They were the upper caste – unlike us, tankers or infantry. After flight a waitress would serve them food in the canteen and they had houses and bedlinen. An aircraft technician would prepare their aircraft for the next sortie. We had never set eyes on bedlinen; instead we always slept in dugouts or just in the open underneath the tank. We serviced the tank ourselves, as well. We refueled it, loaded it up with ammo and performed maintenance. When I became a battalion commander I still worked together with my crew. What is it like, refueling a tank? We had no refuellers through the end of the war! Fuel barrels would be trucked over near a tank, ramped down and the crew would proceed with tank refueling by means of two pails. Two men would fill the pails, a third one would take them to the fender and a fourth would pour the fuel into the fuel tank. Everybody was involved. Well, when I became a company commander it seemed to me humiliating just to serve the pails, so I poured them into the fuel tank. That way, fifty ten-liter pails at a time! We also had to top up some oil: one or two pails or to load up ammunition. Ammo boxes were delivered. The first thing to do was the degreasing of shells. Normally it was a task for the radio operator- machine gunner. After degreasing, one man would pick up a shell, another one standing on the fender would take it from him and hand it to a third one standing inside the turret and a fourth one - the gun loader, would stack it inside. In wintertime you were dirty and greasy; your entire body was riddled with boils due to the cold. Having dug a pit, we would drive the tank over it, cover it with tarpaulin and attach a small stove to the tank bottom, putting the chimney outside. That was it, the night lodging as such. While firewood was still burning in the stove we felt as if we were being broiled because we wore sheepskin or quilted jackets and quilted trousers. When going to bed we would leave one person on duty to maintain fire in the stove. Everybody would fall asleep, including that person and all the warmth would be blown out from underneath the tarpaulin and slowly everybody would begin to freeze. The first one to wake up would begin yelling at the person on duty. Later when the stove was heated up again it was warm again. If the person on duty stayed awake, we could sleep just fine.
We had one meal a day: in the evening they would bring us breakfast, lunch and dinner all at once. American bacon was rationed to us and it was always available. In autumn we would dig up some potatoes and fry them with bacon – yum-yum! I still eat with relish that, my favorite frontline dish. Vodka was always available. By the time vodka was delivered to the frontline half of the personnel were gone. As a matter of fact, in the beginning of my frontline career I didn’t take alcohol at all. They would bring us two pints of vodka for four of us, but I always gave my ration out to the rest of the crew. I began drinking vodka at the end of the war only when I became a battalion commander. When we were advancing on foreign land we had plenty of booty. Generally, we would capture compote and wine.
Lice infested. In wintertime the tank was like a freezer, therefore we wore plenty of clothes. If someone took a piece of clothing off and shook it over a fire, crackling was heard. And whenever we had the opportunity to rest was clothes were assigned for thermal treatment. Thermal treatment was arranged as follows: the barrel head was removed from a barrel put horizontally and a metal crosspiece rack was inserted inside where clothes were hung. The barrel then was set up with its bottom to the ground, some water was splashed onto its bottom, its head reinstated and the whole structure put on a fire. The most important thing was watching that the clothes didn’t touch the side of the barrel; otherwise they might be burned… Only young men could persevere. I am telling you, the youth had won the war.
After Prokhorovka we were handed over to the 1st Tank Corps commanded by General Vasily Budkov and redeployed to the Central Front where we were supposed to advance towards Oryol. There I went for a reconnaissance in force, after which I stopped playing war. It was like this. The brigade commander arrived. We were paraded. He came forward and said: “Any volunteers for a reconnaissance in force make one step forward!” I stepped forward promptly. Then it was the first and the last time in my life when I felt with my back, with my sixth sense, the hateful stare of my crew. I felt butterflies in my stomach, but there was no way back.
We passed through the forest to a grove, which was on the high ground and approached the commander’s command-and-observation post used by the rifle regiment that had unsuccessfully attacked the German defenses. Our infantry was positioned a little below, and about one kilometer ahead on the outskirts of some populated place there were enemy defenses. Our 159th Tank Brigade under the 1st Tank Corps was supposed to break through those defenses, but first of all the German firing points had to be detected. My three tanks were taken forward and a company of infantry was assigned to us as support, which having formed a combat line by platoon ranks got entrenched a little ahead of us. We were given the direction of advance and the task of bumping into the enemy defenses at maximum speed and to expose their firing system, without caring about the number of gun shells we had to fire.
We dashed forward. The infantry advanced fast in the beginning, but then under fire took cover on the ground. I rushed forward. I saw that my tanks to the left and to the right of me fell behind and the one to the right caught fire. I took the lead and became a primary target for enemy fire. Sudden impact - sparks, flame, and then bright light. I thought that the gun loader’s hatch had opened. “Akulshin, shut the hatch” – I cried out. “The hatch is gone, blown off” – he responded. It turned out that a solid shot had hit an eyelet and blew the hatch off. We still had to cover about two hundred meters to get to the enemy when the Germans socked a solid shot right into our tank’s frontal armor. The tank stopped but didn’t catch fire. After the battle I saw that the solid shot had pierced the armor near the radio operator-machine gunner, killing him with metal splinters, and then passed underneath the driver-mechanic’s hatch, blowing it off. I was knocked senseless and fell upon the rounds rack. At that moment a second shot pierced the turret and killed the gun loader. Luckily, I had fallen, contused, otherwise I might have been killed also. When I came back to my senses I saw the driver-mechanic lying in front of the tank with his head cracked open. I still don’t know whether he had tried to bail out and was killed with a mortar shell, or if he had been mortally wounded in the tank and somehow managed to get out. The dead radio operator-machine gunner was sitting in his chair and the gun loader was lying upon the rounds rack. I looked around: the rocker arm had been broken off and buried in debris. The Germans had ceased fire, apparently believing that the tank was destroyed. I looked around: both of the other tanks of my platoon were standing nearby, on fire. I started up the tank, anchored the reverse gear and began moving. They resumed firing at me and I stopped. Presently our artillery opened fire and then our tanks and infantry charged and dislodged the enemy. When everything around was quiet and I got out of the tank, Leonenko, the gun loader from other tank of my platoon, came up to me – only two of us had survived. With strong language he addressed me: "Look here, lieutenant, I am not going to fight with you again! Go to hell with all your tanks! Just please do me one favor – tell them that I am missing in action. I have a driver’s license. Now I will go to another unit to be a driver.” - "OK"- I said. When people came to look for him, I said exactly what he had requested: “The tank is burned down. Whether he is alive or dead, I don’t know.” After that very battle I began to fight in earnest.
Although, before that I had spent about twelve days in a medical and sanitation platoon because of my head concussion and bleeding from my nose. And next were the battles again …Well, what can I say?! Battles like all other battles. One day successful and the next day not. We would retreat, stop and get entrenched. The brigade commander would hang around, goad the arrival of new tanks and redeploy tanks from one direction to another. Again we would advance. Again your tank would be knocked down. Again you would go in reserve. Then you would take up a tank again. And so on and so forth until you get to the medical and sanitation battalion or you get burned.
By the way, once I nearly got burned for real. When would a tank be on fire? Whenever a shell hits the fuel tank. It sets it on fire when there is plenty of fuel in it. But by the end of battles when there is no fuel left in the fuel tanks the tank almost wouldn’t burn at all. So, whenever a tank is on fire and it is engulfed in flames, man, keeping a grip on oneself is a matter of strong nerves. Temperatures rise high right away, diesel fuel is on fire. And if the flame licks you, you would lose your control completely. Why is it so difficult for a driver-mechanic to bail out? He had to remove the hold down hooks by unscrewing them, to open the hatch and if he panicked or was captured by fire he would never bail out. Of course, radio operators were killed most of all. Their position was the most disadvantageous: the driver mechanic was to his left, and the gun loader -behind. He couldn’t evacuate until either of them cleared the way, but it was matter of seconds. So, usually, the tank commander and the gun loader were those to escape; as for the rest – only as luck would have it. Once you were out, you would go heels over head from the tank. Now I think to myself: “How come, when I bailed out, confused, falling out from the turret to the fender, from the fender to the ground (which was 1.5 m high), I never saw anyone that had broken his arm or leg, or had skin grazes?!"
So, somewhere between Oryol and Bryansk my tank was knocked down and it burst into flames. I cried out: "Let’s get out of here!" and headed outside once the first flames appeared. However, the TPU (tank intercommunication phone) plug had been tightly inserted into the socket block and when I pushed myself upwards the plug didn’t release and I was pulled back down to my seat. The gun loader bailed out through my hatch and I followed him. My tank helmet saved me – it was fire resistant, therefore I was only burned on my face and hands, but so severely that they blistered. I was taken to the medical and sanitation battalion, where ointment was applied to my burns and wire frames fitted to my hands to prevent skin scratching. Later on, when new crews were arriving I made them all clean the detachable socket blocks so that they would release easily.
A heavy battle for Bryansk cargo railway station took place. It was raining. We had cut across some river and broken into the station where there were German trains. It was totally dark night combat. As a matter of fact, the Germans had run away, but we mangled them so nicely. We captured that station, shot up the trains and proceeded to advance along the streets finishing off the retreating enemy. After Bryansk we had almost no battles – we proceeded in pursuit. While retreating, the Germans rounded up young citizens and drove them along in crowds. When we caught up with them they, seeing our tanks, scattered, and we machine gunned those whom we could get and released our people. Every time we stopped – we felt compassion for them. They dashed up to us with tears, weeping and joy. In Novozybkovo we released one such group of people and camped there for the night, fixing up our machines. We made bonfires and cooked potatoes, which had become ready to eat by that time. They treated us with homemade alcohol gotten from somewhere. I met one young female, who was about thirty-two years old and had two children. I still remember her name: Maria Barinova. I’ve forgotten where that village is. She wanted me to take her address: "My husband is dead. Come to me after the war and we’ll get married!" I was nineteen years old then. But wearing a tank helmet and overalls, all grimy, I also might have looked like I was around thirty.
Were the night battles frequent? Yes, they were. We didn’t keep track of time. We had orders to keep up the advance. Germans did not like night battles and they fought them infrequently, nevertheless sometimes they attacked us at night. Fighting at night was very difficult. The impression was that all the bullets and shells were aimed at you. You saw a tracer burst flying past you: twenty to thirty meters away, still it seemed that it was coming right at you.
Getting your bearings was difficult and people would often lose them. Some of them, taking advantage of the darkness, would maneuver, huddle up, but wouldn’t do any advancing. But then how to prove it?! There was one such episode near the city of Tata in Hungary. It happened on the 29th of December 1944 when it was already growing dark. The brigade, from which just about forty tanks had survived, was deployed to attack the city. We had to progress about eight hundred, one thousand at the most, meters over open ground. When the Germans opened fire all the battalions fell behind. My tank company had dashed forward. After the battle the investigation was started. So, everybody found an excuse. Someone had his radio fail due to blown-out fuse. Another one had lost the radio channel and couldn’t hear. A third one had the gear jammed and the driver-mechanic couldn’t shift it. Well, when we had dashed forward the whole enemy fire was concentrated on us. We maneuvered, dodging shell hits. The driver-mechanic played a critical part in this. An experienced driver-mechanic meant salvation for the crew. He would create for you comfortable conditions for gunfire by selecting a flat ground and hiding behind cover. Some driver-mechanics even used to say: “I will never be killed, because I will position the tank in such way that a shell wouldn’t hit where I am sitting.” I believed them.
Was cowardice ever displayed? Of course, it was. Not something like the whole crew abandoning a charging tank, but a different thing, such as when a mortar shell or an explosive-fragmentation shell hitting a tank would smash something and the crew evacuated. Such an episode had happened in our battalion. A mortar shell had hit the tank’s frontal armor. The crew got out and ran. The Germans counterattacked and the tank was left behind in the no man’s land. The battalion commander Mukhin together with a driver-mechanic at night sneaked back there; started up and retrieved the tank. The brigade commander had the grace, thanks to him, not to court-martial the crew, just warned them to never let it happen again. They got into their tank again.
Another episode happened. One night we were moving forward to the starting line, from which we were going to start our advance at dawn. One tank commander stopped his vehicle off the side, ostensibly, because he did not like the way its engine worked and ordered the crew to wait for the technical quartermaster. Another tank was passing by and he stopped it: “Is the technical quartermaster with you?” – “No. Why have you stopped?” – “There is something wrong with my engine.” – “Really? Is your starter OK?” - “Yes, it is.” – “Can you give it to me?” – “Take it if you want!” So, they removed a serviceable starter and fitted in a failed one. The next tank was passing by: “What’s wrong with you?” – “The starter has failed.” – “Are your batteries OK?" So, in that way within a night he gave out all of the serviceable parts from his tank to others. So, when the technical quartermaster finally arrived he certainly found the tank in unserviceable condition and ordered that it be taken out for repair. The crew members said nothing, but someone reported the episode to the Special department. So, the crew was about to be court marshaled, but after the morning battle many tanks had ended up burned down, so the rest of the battalion was transferred to another unit. So, that crew was assigned to another tank and sent out, spared from any court marshalling.
In late 1943 our Corps was redeployed to the 2nd Baltic Front. We fought there in November and in December. It was very painful. Why? Because of marshes. A little turn to the side and your machine would bog down so heavily that it hardly ever could be extracted. We maneuvered along the roads only and Germans ambushed us there. We charged in a restricted formation, acting by company and platoon ranks. During two months of battles I never saw a battalion deployed side-by-side for an attack, let alone the brigade. While fighting against those ambushes very many men ended up dead. It happened like that: one tank was knocked down on a road. Another one attempting to pass around it would be knocked down also. And so on until it was your turn. Whoever was smarter and more adroit would make it through.
Near the city of Nevel we were driven into a marsh, or got there by accident, which was actually the case I couldn’t figure out later. There were seven tanks left in our battalion. We passed along a road and reached a forest clearing, and further wherever we tried to go we would bump into a bog. The road along which we had slipped through by then was blocked by Germans. We took up defenses in the center of the forest clearing and the whole night long we were firing back at the Germans. Then I was already a company commander. During that battle one platoon leader and another company commander were killed, and the battalion commander Captain Kozhanov and another company commander ran away. However, by morning they apparently had come to their senses and both stealthily returned. By then I had already taken up command of the rest of the battalion and decided to organize a breakout from that trap back along the same route by which we had come. Then our battalion commander showed up, all wet, and yelled: "Come on, charge! Our brothers are shedding their blood, while you are sitting here!"… Only four of our tanks had broken out from there. And as it happened, we had bumped into a divisional commander’s command post of the rifle division, with which our brigade acted. Regiments of that division positioned to the right of that “trap” were unsuccessfully storming the village of Vasilky in Novgorod oblast, located to the west of the railway station of Pustoshka. The village was positioned on high ground. The Germans had gained a strong foothold there: they had antitank artillery and tanks. I think that we were attempting to outflank Vasilky when we got into the marsh
Battle around the village of Vasilky (drawn by S. Kuleshov)
The divisional commander held us over and ordered us to support his infantry. I told him: "Comrade Colonel, we are out of fuel and ammunition and we have not eaten for twenty four hours". - "Now you’ll get everything” – he said. They fed us, delivered ammunition and fuel. The battalion commander said to me: "My tank is out of order. You are a company commander, take up three tanks and go forward!" We selected crew members for the tanks for we had many wounded. We proceeded to the field for reconnaissance and I said right away: “Comrade Colonel, the tanks you have out there are burning.” In front of the village on the snow there were bonfires emitting black smoke. "All the tanks you have out there are burning. What will we be able to accomplish with our three tanks? We will die for nothing!" – "Quiet or I’ll execute you! Do fulfill the order!" I led my tank platoon on the attack. We passed our infantry lying down in the land depression in front of the village under massed intense gunfire and broke into the outskirts of the village where we were burned down one after another. First of all a shell was planted into my tank’s side, then another one into its running gear. The tank was set on fire. I bailed out, the others apparently didn’t. That was it. The whole crew was dead. Our infantry covered me with gunfire and I crawled to our positions. A driver-mechanic from another combat vehicle and I were the only survivors. We returned to our starting lines where some more of our tanks had arrived and I volunteered to lead them as one of the tank mounted infantrymen. It was the first and the last time that I fought as a tank mounted infantryman. After that battle I made a vow that I would never do it again. When we were well on the way to the forward edge of the battle, all those who had been with me on the tank were gone in a split second; only I stayed behind the turret fidgeting like a grass snake. It seemed to me that all the bullets were directed at me: the whistling, cracking of bullets and shell splinters ricocheting off armor. It was awful! How I survived – I don’t know … We captured the village, went on, captured booty. We disengaged from the battle and only then a vehicle was sent over from the brigade to pick us up.
Then we were redeployed back to the 170th Brigade in Ukraine. I fought there through the end of the war. When we arrived, the Korsun-Shevchenko operation was already over, however, fighting against the German forces at Kirovograd was still ongoing. There, around the village named Plavny, the adjacent battalion commanded by Captain Rodin had lost almost all their tanks within a single day. The first company had triggered mines in a minefield and gotten stuck in a rivulet; the second company proceeded with bypassing it, engaged in a battle and lost all their tanks also: out of twenty one tanks only five tanks survived. On the 8th of January 1944 he himself was killed. By that time four tanks had survived in his battalion and using such strength they were storming a village (whose name I don’t remember), which was about ten kilometers to the northeast of Kirovograd. They failed to capture it. The brigade commander Nikolai Petrovich Chunikhin and the political department supervisor Lieutenant Colonel Georgy Ivanovich Negrul arrived. The brigade commander calmly said that that village had to be captured and the assault (encirclement) tightened, but Georgy Ivanovich lashed out against him: “You are a so-and-so, who cannot capture some bedraggled village! Coward!" Rodin, a strong-willed and talented commander, who had always kept his temper, then hit the roof: "I am a coward?! I will capture it!" The brigade commander held him up: "Don’t act in the heat of the moment. Look around!" But Rodin had already taken the bit between his teeth (taken offense). He gathered the remaining officers: "Perevozchikov, you will be on the right, I will be in the center, Arakcheyev – on the left. We will either capture the village or die. Chaschegorov (he told me of this episode), you go to the brigade headquarters and report there that we have captured the village. If I get killed I don’t want any political officers’ speeches over my grave.” All but one tank were killed.
In summer 1944 prior to the Jassy-Kishinev offensive we were withdrawn for recuperation and reformation and on the 20th of August the offensive began. Artillery had worked over the first line of enemy defenses so intensively that we could barely advance; everything was so riddled with craters. So, for about fifteen kilometers into the first line of defenses there was no German resistance at all. Only when we had reached the second line, near the Vaslui river, did we face any organized resistance. Infantry and close-in infantry support tanks assured our engagement and by the end of the first day we entered the breach of the breakthrough. There was no continuous front line anymore, just pockets of resistance.
What was the procedure for battle? We would approach a village. Scouts would report that there were Germans with artillery and tanks in it. We would move up the artillery regiment assigned to our brigade. The brigade would deploy. Based on the particular assignment and terrain the deployment would be into either one or two battalion lines. All the rest would be in reserve. We would proceed with the attack. The enemy would display more resilient resistance in the center, so we would envelope their flanks. The adjacent tank companies of the first and the second battalions would remain on the frontline pinning down the enemy with gunfire, while two other tank companies would maneuver around their flanks. They dislodged the enemy and went further. It is difficult to describe a battle, it is better to see it. Where would the commander be? Everybody up to the company commander would be in battle, charging in combat tanks. The battalion commander would advance along with the reserves managing the entire battalion. He would see who of his men were dragging behind and who were not. Whenever the Germans proceeded with resolute resistance and in addition, would set one or two machines on fire, all the rest of our tanks would reduce their speed – everybody wanted to live on! At the edge of a standstill… Then the battalion commander would deliver a radio signal: "Bryukhov, now then, increase speed!" The message seemed to have been addressed to the entire company, but everybody else still continued just crawling. So I had to rush forward and take the lead. Once I tallied that in one tank company of our battalion eighteen company commanders had been killed during the war. I am just telling you of the deceased ones, not wounded. The number of the battalion commanders killed was almost the same. The company commander was fighting to the last tank in the company, the battalion commander – to the last two or three tanks. They would bail out of knocked down tanks, take up others, and so on until they got wounded or killed.
Of course the experienced tankers lived on longer. I can give you a simple example. A company of ten tanks would arrive for reinforcement. We had four tank commanders with combat experience in reserve. Out of ten young tank commanders, who had arrived along with their tanks, four the least capable ones would be released from their positions and assigned either back to the tank factory to pick up tanks or for the battalion reserve. They were not particularly opposed to that – nobody was very eager to go in for a fight. In their stead, four tank commanders from the reserves would be assigned. Driver-mechanics and other crew members could be changed out in the same manner. So, after one or two weeks in battles, out of the six young tank commanders barely one or two survived, while out of the old tankers only one would be killed. The experienced soldiers were killed by one third less than the inexperienced ones. Experience is a great thing! Being in action two or three times was as good as finishing training school. Even one battle would teach you more than training school. If you survived a battle, it meant that you could concentrate all your will, knowledge, and observation power – all your capabilities. Well, if you were a capable one you stood higher chances to survive
Battle in Romania (drawn by S.Kuleshov)
During the fifteen days of the Jassy-Kishinev offensive in my T-34-85 tank I personally knocked down nine enemy tanks. One battle I remembered particularly well. Having passed Husi we were heading toward Leova to link up with the 3rd Ukrainian Front. We were advancing in a field of corn as high as a tank, we could see nothing. But there were cuttings and roads, as in a forest. At the end of a cutting I had caught a glimpse of a German tank advancing towards us, which later turned out to have been a ‘Panther’ tank. I commanded: "Stop. Gun sight – 30’ to the right, tank at range of 400 m." Judging by direction of the panther’s advance we were supposed to meet at the next cutting. Our gunner pointed the gun to the right and we advanced towards the next cutting. The German had detected me also and seeing the direction of our advance proceeded with lurking me out of the corn. I looked through panorama sight where it was supposed to emerge. Right-on, it appeared at sector 3/4! At that moment a shot had to be fired. If you allowed the German to fire first and he missed you had to start off quickly, otherwise his next shot surely would be yours. Such tough guys were the Germans. I cried out to the gunner: "The tank is yonder!" But he didn’t see it. I saw half hull of the tank already out. We couldn’t wait any longer. Seconds lapsed. Then I seized the gunner by the scruff of his neck – for he was sitting next to me – and pulled him down to the rounds rack. I sat at the gun sight, trained the gun on the target and fired at the tank’s side. The enemy tank burst into flames, but nobody bailed out. And when it happened, my reputation as a commander soared to unreachable heights, because but for me the enemy tank would have fired at us first and we would have all been dead. The gunner Nikolai Blinov was humiliated, so ashamed he was.
I had flailed many tanks in Romania and Hungary. The nights were short, not dark. We approached a canal and stopped. On the far side of the canal there was a road, along which a German column was retreating. Against the background of the sky I made out a silhouette and fired our gun at it. One enemy tank was on fire. The next tank following in its wake bumped into it and fussed around, looking for the ways to bypass the killed tank, to turn around, but failed: I fired the second round and killed it also. Pursuit means easy battles.
In October 1944 at the tip of the spearhead unit I was the first to cross the Romanian-Hungarian border near the city of Battonya and, having captured the Tisza river crossing, I was securing it for twenty four more hours until our bulk strength had arrived. The battle was very intense, as the Germans exerted all their efforts to break out of a cul-de-sac. For that battle I was recommended for the title of a Hero of the Soviet Union, however, the Hero’s title would not be bestowed on me until 1995. After that battle I was paid money for destroyed enemy tanks for the first time. We went to the city of Timisoara, Kolya (Nikolai) Maximov and I walked around there for three days. We ordered kubankas (Cossacks’ flat fur hats), suits and calf leather high boots with fancy cut short boot tops. They made it all for us within twenty four hours.
However, to get paid the money one had to prove his kills; witness testimonies were required. There was a special board, which, if it had time, went over to the sites to check things out. For example, whenever an enemy aircraft was shot down the credit for it would be taken by the airmen, as well as the antiaircraft gunners, and the infantrymen, and anyone else who had fired at it. Once an antiaircraft gunner platoon commander ran up to me: “Vasily Pavlovich, did you see the enemy plane that got shot down?!" - "I did" - "Well, we did it. Can you sign the paper that you have witnessed that?" At the end there appeared to have been three or four planes shot down, instead of one. When the war was over we were ordered to summarize the combat activities for all operations. Maps were drawn; the brigade commander hosted a meeting, at the end of which, the chief executive officer of the staff talked on the enemy’s and our losses. Tallying our losses was very difficult. The number of tanks that had perished was not always accurately accounted for. But the enemy losses could be easily tallied based on our reports. At that point the chief executive officer of staff said: “Had I taken all the reports of battalion commanders Bryukhov, Sarkisyan, Otroschenkov and Mosckovchenko seriously, we would have been through with the war six months earlier, as the entire German army would have been destroyed. Therefore, I would cut the claims in half before sending them over to corps headquarters." I think that corps headquarters did the same: cut all those reports by half and sent over to Army headquarters, and so on. Maybe then they could get some sort of accuracy. Here is what we wrote in our daily reports: The direction of advance, number of kilometers progressed, front width. Destination reached. Enemy losses: number of tanks (we counted them very well, as we were paid money for them). As for mortars, artillery pieces and personnel, who cared about counting them? Nobody. So, we would write approximate numbers: “Let’s write fifty men!” and so on. And when we were in defense, we just fired guns not knowing for sure, whether we had hit anything: “Let’s write two artillery pieces and one mortar "…
Generally, fighting the Germans was difficult. I did not have hatred for them. For me they were just enemies that had to be killed. I never fought prisoners of war, never executed them, but gathered and sent them out to the rear. Here is an example of one episode, which happened in Hungary near Budapest on the 25th or 26th of December 1944. My battalion (since by late 1944 I was already in command of a battalion) had torn itself about twenty kilometers away from the bulk strength of the battalion and reached Vertesboglar, cutting off the road to Budapest. We stopped in a grove on high ground. Beneath us in a small hollow, about one kilometer away, there was a small populated place and a road, along which an enemy column was advancing. There I counted sixty-three tanks. Engaging in battle with my fifteen tanks was pointless. I reported to the brigade commander. He ordered us to stop and watch and requested action against them from the air forces, which hacked them away near Bicske.
We remained in the grove. While we were there, three German field communication wiremen running out a telephone line bumped into us. They were tied up. We tried to talk to them, but nobody knew any German. We put them into a shell crater and put a submachine gunner as a guard to prevent their escape. Then we saw an Opel-Admiral (a nice car with high-ranking German officers in it, so we thought) running counter to the direction the column was marching in. They branched off the road, either to make a short-cut, or just strayed, and headed along a field road to the left of the grove where we were. I got onto the tank, grabbed a submachine gun and cried out to the driver-mechanic: “Come on, let’s intercept them!” He started off and indeed intercepted the car. I got out of the tank and fired a submachine gun burst at the car engine. The car stopped. The officers sitting in it and their driver were petrified. I pointed the submachine gun at them and commanded: “Weg” (Move out!). Four slackers: three officers and the driver got out. - "Hȁnde hoch!" (Put your hands up!). They raised their hands. Suddenly, one of them ran like mad ahead of the stopped car. I followed him, thinking that our guys would cope with the others, but nobody even moved. Suddenly, the evader turned around and ran back. “Well, well”, - I thought to myself, “you’ve lost your courage, you an asshole.” He ran up to the car, grabbed a portfolio from it and ran in the opposite direction, towards the column, which had passed. I chased him, firing on the run - missed. A second burst – missed also. Firing and hitting at the same time happens in action movies only, not in real life. Moreover, firing on the run the PPSh submachine gun was particularly difficult. With the third burst the submachine gun seized-up – a round jammed. I began pulling the bolt. He realized that something was wrong, turned to me, and seeing me struggling with the submachine gun, drew out a Parabellum pistol and fired at me. Missed! At that moment I started off for the car and he chased me. Luckily, I pulled the bolt once more and the submachine gun resumed firing away. Then I turned around – he hadn’t stopped and was still running at me – I fired a multiple-round burst. The German fell down as if he had bumped against a wall. I came up closer and fired another burst to be sure. I took the portfolio away from him, as well as his watch and the Parabellum pistol. Actually I already had two pistols: one on my belt and one in my bosom, but somehow when my submachine gun had gotten seized-up it didn’t occur to me to use them. I looked into the portfolio – there were some maps. Then I thought that this might have been some important stuff since the German had returned to the car to pick it up. We hooked the car up to the tank with a towing line. I put the driver at the wheel, the slackers into the car, the German field communication wiremen and three our submachine gunners on the tank and ordered the driver to head towards brigade headquarters. The portfolio turned out to hold a map of the counteroffensive around the city of Szekesfehervar approved by the Fȕhrer. This is how that episode was described in the book “the General Staff During the War” by Sergei Matveyevich Shtemenko (M.: Voenizdat publishing, 1989): “Within the combat area of the 3rd Ukrainian Front the enemy had also prepared a counterattack relying on the ‘Margarethe’ fortification line, but he had miscalculated the time by just moments and secrecy of his intentions was disrupted while his counteroffensive army group strength was still being concentrated. This was attested to by two maps of the German 2nd Panzer Division, captured on the 22nd of December 1944 near Szekesfehervar by troops of the 3rd Ukrainian Front. The maps told many interesting things to a competent staff. Marshal F.I. Tolbukhin reported then to the General Staff: “One of the maps carries a coding of the great number of populated places within the area occupied by our troops to the southeast of the Lake Balaton. The second map illustrates locations of the headquarters of the 3rd and 57th Panzer Corps, headquarters and units of the 1st, 2nd, 6th, and 23rd Panzer Divisions and those of the 130th Panzer Regiment of the High Command reserve. All that illustrates the German intentions for active warfare to the east of the Lake Balaton". As it turned out later, in addition, there also were the 8th Panzer Division and some individual panzer battalions."
So, I killed that German and didn’t feel any regret about it. I didn’t hurt the other six, who had not resisted, but sent them out. Even though, they were enemies, I never shot at them for no good reason. For that capture I was decorated with the Order of Suvorov. I was summoned to Corps Commander Lieutenant General Peter Dmitrievich Govorunenko for decoration. He and the Corps Political Department Supervisor Shelekh were sitting there. The Corps Commander addressed the Political Department Supervisor with words: “Look, Shelekh! He is a snot-nosed kid, still very green, but already gets decorated with the Order of Suvorov! I’m not decorated with one yet, but he already is!" Instead of with complements and words of cheer, he pronounced that with such regret and reproach.
Turning back to the subject of attitudes towards Germans. There was one episode in winter 1945. In one of the battles we had captured five Germans. By the evening the battle was over and we stopped to have a rest. At that time the Battalion Political Department Supervisor and the Battalion Logistics Supervisor Vasya (Vasily) Selivanov arrived, brought some fuel and ammunition: "Well, commander, let’s have dinner". Dinner was served and a bottle of wine set out. Vasya rose and said: “May I be excused for a moment to check out how the people are being fed?” - "Well, go ahead. Check to make sure that everything is alright.” Presently he returned: "Everything is alright. Everybody is fed. The tanks are refueled and resupplied with ammunition." I said: "There are five Germans sitting in a pit, take them along!" – He wavered. - "Why are you wavering?" I realized that something was wrong: "Let’s go!" I had put the Germans in a pit and set a sentry. He appeared to have gone over there, seen them and asked: "Who are they?" - "They’re Germans." - "Ah, fascists!" And he submachine gunned them all. When I saw that I fell upon him: "You are a son of a bitch, what have you done?! If you want a shooting practice, tomorrow we’ll go into a battle. Come on, join me as gun loader or a tank mounted submachine gunner. In battle you may shoot them as many as you like!" I dressed him down. The Political Department Supervisor came up. We sat together and discussed the incident: "For what you’ve done you deserve to be court-marshaled. Anyway, now grab a shovel and bury them all to hide the signs of your crime!" And he did bury them by himself in front of everybody. He had never been on an attack. After the war when returned home he would be asked: “Have you killed any Germans?" and he would be able to say proudly: "On one attack I killed five of them at once." A noncombatant officer, that all what he was. In my opinion, a combatant would never execute unarmed prisoners of war. There might have been some, but generally I had never seen among my men any volunteers execute anybody.
There was one episode in the town of Craiova in Romania where we had stopped for three days to get fixed up and move up supplies. In our battalion there was one tank commander, Lieutenant Ivanov, from Belgorod oblast. He was a mature man, about 32-34 years old, a communist, had a higher education in agronomy, and before the war he used to be a collective farm (kolkhoz) manager. His village had been occupied by Romanian troops. While retreating, the Romanians drove the young people along, rounded up communists and their family members into a barn and set it on fire. Later the neighbors told him how the people cried and wept when the Romanian soldiers splashed the barn with gasoline and then shot with their firearms through boards to finish them off. In that way Ivanov’s family, his wife and two children, were killed. Our brigade was advancing not far from his village and he begged us off to stop by. Once there he was told that story and taken to the ashes. When he returned he had changed dramatically. He proceeded with vengeance. He was a perfect fighter, sometimes it even seemed that he was looking for death. He took no prisoners and whenever somebody was going to surrender, he would promptly scythe them all. That time he and the driver-mechanic had some alcohol and went out to look for a young female. It was September about evening time. The weather was fine. They entered a house. In a room there were an aged man and a young female, about twenty-five years old (father and daughter), sitting and drinking tea. In her arms she had an infant, about one and a half years old. The lieutenant handed the infant over to her parents and told her: “Go into the room”, and then to the mechanic: “You go and fuck her, I will be the next.” The mechanic went, but he was just a kid, born in 1926, apparently never having had any contact with girls. He began fussing around with her. Seeing that, she escaped through the window and ran. Hearing noise Ivanov entered: “Where is she?" But she was already running: "You are a son of a bitch and have let her slip away!" He fired a submachine gun burst into her wake. She fell. They did not notice that and went away. Had he really wanted to kill her, it would have been very difficult for him to hit her firing at such a range. But there was just one bullet from the burst that hit her heart. The next day her parents came to our brigade with local authorities. One day later the police ferreted out and arrested them – SMERSH (army police) then worked fine. Ivanov confessed at once that he had fired, but didn’t know that he had killed. On the third day there was a trial. The strength of the entire brigade was paraded in an open field, a burgomaster (mayor) and parents of the victim arrived. The mechanic was weeping aloud. Ivanov told him: “Listen, be a man. You won’t be executed, anyway, stop whining. They will send you to a penal battalion and you will atone with your blood.” When the mechanic was allowed to give his final statement, he was apologizing continuously. Everything happened exactly as predicted: a sentence of twenty five year imprisonment, commuted by tenure in a penal battalion, was pronounced. The lieutenant rose and said: "Your honors, judges of the court martial, I did commit the crime, so please don’t show any mercy to me!" So simply and firmly. He sat down and was sitting, picking his teeth with a blade of grass. The sentence was pronounced: "Execution bypistol in front of the unit formation. To parade the brigade. To implement the execution." It took us about fifteen to twenty minutes to fall in. The convicted was taken to the pre-dug out grave. The brigade osobist (army police officer), lieutenant colonel, told our battalion osobist standing in the ranks of the brigade: “Comrade Morozov, I order to you to implement the execution.” But the latter wouldn’t come out. "I order you to!" He still wouldn’t come out. Then the lieutenant colonel ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and pulled him out of the ranks and cursing through clenched teeth: "I order you to!!" He succumbed. Came up to the convicted. Lieutenant Ivanov took off his forage cap, bowed and said: “Forgive me, brothers". And that’s it. Morozov told him: "Kneel down ". He did it in a very low voice, but everybody could hear – there was an eerie silence. He knelt down and tucked his forage cap in his belt: "Incline your head." And when he inclined his head, Morozov fired a shot in the back of his head. The lieutenant’s body fell and convulsed. So eerie it was … The osobist turned around and walked, staggering like a drunken man, with a pistol in his hand still smoking. The lieutenant colonel cried out: “Insurance shot! Insurance shot!" But Morozov, hearing nothing, walked further. Then the lieutenant colonel rushed in fired insurance shots by himself: first, second and the last. What I remembered: after every shot the dead body would shiver. He pushed the body with his foot and it rolled down into the grave: "Bury him!" – The body was buried - "Dismissed!" But nobody would go away until fifteen minutes had passed. Tomb-like silence. Ivanov was a perfect fighter. His comrades respected him and knew that the Romanians had burned his family. He might have asked for mercy, pleading that it was an accident, but he didn’t … After that episode there were no more incidents with local populace in our brigade.
Battalion commander V.P. Bryukhov
(sitting on the driver-mechanic’s hatch)
and his deputies.
Hungary in 1945
But there were many venereal (sexually transmitted) diseases. In most cases our people infected each other. For instance, one our officer went for a business trip, I don’t know where he had found the way to get infected, but on arrival he got ill. In 1945 we were on the defensive near the Lake Balaton. We lived in some hut. One night a beautiful signalwoman Masha (Maria) Reshetova came to us from the brigade quarters. The battalion staff chief executive officer Sasha (Alexander) Chaschegorov, a tall and handsome guy, born in 1923, dated her. On that occasion we lent him a staff bus, which was parked near the house, where he had set a table for two. We had dinner in the house. Suddenly, about the time of evening when it began turning dark, the deputy brigade commander Major Novikov arrived. He came into our house: “Where has Sashka gone?” – “He is in the bus.” - "OK, I’ll go to visit him." What happened next, Sasha told us later. The Major came in. I leaped to my feet: “Comrade Major, please have a seat.” He sat: “How are you doing here? Have you set out security posts?” – “That’s affirmative. Comrade Major, would you care to do some drinking with us?" - "Well, OK." They drank. The Major said: "Look here, Sasha. Now it’s getting dark. Go out to check all sentries and security posts to make sure that everything is alright! Will two hours suffice for you?" - "Yes, sir". And he went away. Two hours later we heard a vehicle engine roaring: the Major and that signalwoman had gone to the brigade quarters. One week later news arrived: Maria Reshetova and Major Novikov were dispatched to the hospital in Odessa, both were ill. When Sashka heard that news he jumped of joy, because had it been otherwise, he would have had to go.
Were there love affairs? Of course! Girls would come to visit us, they wanted to marry us. Many couples got married right at the front. I read that good girls would choose officers, preferably elder ones. It’s natural. What about now? It’s quite the same just the selection criteria have changed. There used to be duty positions and ranks in demand, now – it’s the money. The guys whose names, as the saying goes, were familiar to everybody: heroes, who fought and were decorated or even honored with the title of a Hero of the Soviet Union, were In particular favor. When I was just a tank company commander my name became well-known and many people were talking of me: Bryukhov, Bryukhov, Bryukhov! I was a rare visitor to the brigade quarters, I spent more time with my men, so few people saw me there, just heard my name. Once the brigade commander summoned me: "Come over, I’ll give you an assignment!" As I realized later, there was a fuss among the female headquarters personnel: "Oh! Bryukhov is coming!" I arrived in a tank, wearing overalls, got out. A dwarf in a tank helmet. They said: "Where is Bryukhov, eh?" - "There he is!"… Phooey (a sigh of disappointment).
Many girls left pregnant. Many officers in command of brigades and those of higher ranks had so-called campaign field wives. The brigade commander lived together with the medical and sanitation platoon female doctor. The political department supervisor lived with his tallywoman. Other girls did as their luck favored them: either they liked somebody or somebody took a lucky chance with them, but there was no coercion.
In general I had the most affectionate attitude to women, because I had five sisters, whom I had always protected. Therefore I have always been considerate to girls. The girls really suffered at war! It was hundred times more difficult for them than for us, the men! I particularly sympathized with the girls-medical orderlies. They rode on tanks to battlefields to evacuate the wounded and, as a rule, were decorated just with the Medal for “Battle Merit” (the lowest decoration) once, again and again. Whenever girls were decorated with that medal some men jokingly called that medal for “Sexual Exertions”, alluding that the girls were decorated with it for being in favor with their commanders. Very few girls were decorated with the Order of the Red Star. Mostly only those who really had close relations with their commanders. What was the attitude toward them after the war?! You can imagine: there were twelve hundred people in our brigade. All were men and all were young. Everybody was making mating attempts. But there were just sixteen girls for the whole brigade. A girl would give it a try with one and then another, but may not have liked them, but when she found someone she liked, she would begin dating him and then they would live together. Other men who were envious spread ill-fame about her: "She is a so-and-so, someone’s campaign field wife..” That way the reputation of many a good girl was spoiled.
I finished the war in Austria … What was my personal score? During the war I lost nine tanks and burned down twenty-eight German tanks, but I was actually paid the reward money for nine, but who cares?
|Interview and literary work by:||A. Drabkin|
|Translated by:||N. Kulinich|
|Translation review by:||Charles G. Powers|