Then there was some lack of clarity. I knew that there would be enemy panzers that I had to knock out, to move forward and do everything to win. I remember how I knocked out an enemy self-propelled gun: I hit it at short range... We liberated the towns of Volokhov, Karachev and Bryansk. When Bryansk was liberated, we were withdrawn for reformation to the Bryansk forests where we stayed a very long time.
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.
I went out scouting so many times and every time under my own name. I had always been taught: “Whenever asked give your own name and tell where you lived, don’t fib, otherwise, you’ll get confused and will be caught!” For our deep-cover agents really sophisticated cover stories were invented, but this was not my case. I told them about myself. They started taking me to people’s apartments where residents still lived. The people would answer: “Yes, we know him, saw him around!” The “grandpa” “recognized” me right away: “Yes, he’s mine; I’ve sent him to fetch some kindling… what kept you so long?” This is exactly what he said.
I remember when we rushed towards Konigsberg; our battalion travelled in a marching column on a highway. There was a slope on one side and a swampy depression on the other, and suddenly we ran into an ambush. German artillery pieces knocked out the lead and last vehicles from the mound, but we began to disperse and fire back. I rolled to the right, and then my tank was pierced through, but because of the short range all the crew members survived.... Then out of ten vehicles, I think, we lost four. When we seized the German positions we found that the gunners were chained to their guns...
In the afternoon my platoon, consisting of five T-26 tanks, entered the village, and we split up. I went with three tanks along the main street, while my deputy platoon commander Tereshchenko went with two tanks along a parallel street. And then it began. They fired at us from everywhere. One of our vehicles was burned, and the other was only knocked down, but the crew was killed. Somehow I managed to make it on foot to the tank of Tereshchenko and pick up from his dead, bloodstained hands a map case with the map where the coordinates of the German guns were plotted... God protected us; three tanks left the village and went back to our lines.
At dawn we finally got to the intended region, mined the main road and laid an ambush. The frost got severer, our hands were almost frozen. Suddenly we heard the roar of approaching enemy cars and opened fire. We killed four Fascist, took the staff papers out of a passenger car and retreated. Soon motorcycles hurried to the assault place and opened a random fire at the forest. When we were ready to fall back our comrade Vanya Ochotnikov came and shouted that Germans were on the opening.
We lost about 90 of our guys. All in all, it was so BAD! There was real carnage! We clashed tightly in a mortal combat. We fought hand to hand in the trenches using entrenchment tools, rifle butts, finger nails, etc. I mixed it up with one… burly German. He smashed me under my rib with his rifle butt. The impact was so strong that crunch was heard and my eyes nearly fell out of my head and I stopped breathing. Oh, my goodness, I had my rib fractured then…
Well, what can I tell you about war? I had neither seen anything particularly heroic there nor did any such thing myself. We were just doing our various, dangerous, permanent jobs. In the beginning we retreated, and then slowly began to advance. We did not allow ourselves to think: "I wish the war was over soon!" We just worked. Before the final victory we flew very little. Everyone knew and felt that the end of the war was near. The men were happy to realize that the end of the war meant the end of suffering. When the war was finally over, everybody thought: “Now what?” We learned how to fly, how to fight. We learned how to squeeze everything we could out of the airplanes. “What’s next?” For about a month and a half we just hung around. Then we began to organize the flights
And then I began to weep: neither pain, nor losses nor fear were the cause of those tears. I wept from my awareness of the tragedy of the retreat which I had witnessed and in which I had taken part, I wept from the terrible thought that all our sacrifices had been in vain ... I wept because I had not even a grenade to blow myself up with the Germans. I wept from the very thought that the Germans were already on the left bank of the Dnieper.
Six tanks with mounted parties passed along the cart road toward the German rear. I always remember with gratitude our tank-mounted submachine gunners. They were brave guys. They certainly never ran along with tanks on attack or rode the tanks under gun fire as shown in movies. They were common living humans. They would hide and shoot here and there. But without them at nights we were as good as blind. They guarded us at nights.
The battles were very intense. Many men remained lying there for good … The Finish snipers, so-called “cuckoos,” (sitting in trees) caused us a lot of trouble. Once, at a crossing of forest roads, we were ambushed. We had the latest model tanks, with "antiaircraft" machine guns installed on turrets. I brought down three "cuckoos" from the tree tops with a machine gun. The Finns operated well in our rear. They would pass on skis through the woods and set up for us bloody "concerts". Once a camp bath house was arranged for soldiers in the woods. It consisted of a big canvas tent, which was heated inside, where the soldiers would come to wash themselves. Three Finns with submachine guns jumped out on skis from behind a hillock and killed a few of our soldiers washing themselves in such a "camp bath". The war was intense …
I commanded to the driver-mechanic Semiletov: “Vasya, at low speed move a little forward, for a tree standing in front of us prevents me from firing at the enemy head-on”. After two days of battles we had forged a good friendship and the crew read my mind at half word. Having improved our position I saw the enemy tank. Without waiting for the driver to bring the tank to stop, I fired the first sub-caliber round at the head tank, which was already at a distance of fifty meters from us. An instantaneous flash at the frontal part of the enemy tank and, all of a sudden, it burst into flames illuminating the whole column. The driver-mechanic cried out: “Commander, damn! Why did you fire? I haven’t closed the hatch yet! Now the gases made me blind”. I had forgotten about everything that moment but the enemy tanks.
In January 1944, during the German clean-up operation, I was wounded in the right leg by a shell splinter and captured by the enemy. I spent some hard time in Nazi concentration camp on the territory of Krasny state farm located in Simferopol. Then I was transferred to German POW camp in Sevastopol. After that Germans moved us to Romania, then Hungary. The labour camp in Austrian population aggregate named Strasshof an der Nordbahn had become my final destination point. In my memory all these countries have left reminiscences about barbed wire and some episodes. For us as prisoners hunger was a norm of life. We had picked up crumbs of bread from earth. We had changed our civil clothes with Romanians for food to not to die from hunger. In 1945 I was assigned to a farming work for local landowner in Langau, Lower Austria. Even a slave freedom of an "ostarbeiter" seemed way better than horrible life in the labour camp.
Main thing I remember about that war most of all was our persistent moving. Forward, only forward! We constantly wanted to sleep. We could eaten hot food only in seventh day of our offensive during a little rest after seizure of Ling Kou city. We took that city almost without striking a blow. I've remembered Ling Kou especially well. 3000 Japanese troops captured it again after our leaving. There were hospital and some other units in Ling Kou. We had formed special unit for recapturing operation. They dashed back to the city on self-propelled guns rapidly.
We entered the battlefield as a marching column. It was my first combat, it was my baptism of fire that I can't forget and will never forget. That wasn't a war, it was a real crime. It was an ignorant and criminal play at fighting! For such guidance the command deserved death by shooting. Was it an organized offensive? Absolutely not! No usual preliminary artillery bombardment of the enemy's trenches. That combat was a genuine crime.
As the tanks approached closer, we heard: "You are encircled, give yourselves up!" Our company commander was a senior lieutenant, an ethnic Tatar. He ordered: "To open fire!" When we began firing, three tanks came from the left flank and we heard again a shout of the tank crew: "Give up, you are encircled!" As soon as one of our soldiers rose to his feet in order to run somewhere from his shallow position, their machine gun's burst shot him down in a moment. We continued to fire.
In general I wasn’t superstitious but when I was healing my first wounds at home, my mom gave me some printed “Divine Letter,” on some 5-6 pages. Since our soldiers military blouses were without breastpockets, I sewed two small pockets to the inside of my blouse, one – for the Communist Party member’s card, the second – for the “Divine Letter.” I carried both up to the end of the war. When I returned home, I said: “Mom, your letter helped.”
At 8 a. m. Red Army soldiers began their attack: "For the Motherland! For Stalin! Hurrah!" Many of them were mowed down on the spot by the German machine guns. The detachment lay down and everything became silent. In some two hours we heard again: "For the Motherland! For Stalin!" but that attempt failed again. There were two more unsuccessful efforts to attack the enemy. I thought to myself: "What is that for? They definitely see that there are a couple of machine guns. Why then not to organize an artillery or air bombardment before the attack? They didn't do things that way - an entire field is covered with corpses:" I can't be a judge but it seems to me that they didn't spare people at all...
Finns make very good fighters and the Great Patriotic War they fought better than the Germans. I see several reasons for that. First, they knew their land and were prepared for this climate. This resulted in minute differences in camouflage, tactics, reconnaissance, all of which eventually bore fruit. Firearms training - excellent. In combat , they are also solid.
My tankette had been hit. It was a direct hit from the Yurka's side and a shell fragment ripped open his belly and his bowels tumbled on the engine. Another fragment brushed my head just on the rebound and flowing blood covered my eyes. At first I thought that I was killed but in a moment everything had been changed. I rubbed my eyes and saw Yurka dying. To get out of the tankette I began raising myself a little and suddenly a male voice sounded in Russian: "Rus, surrender!"
A pilot, unfamiliar to me, a captain, was sitting in the doorway and cried bitter tears. I asked him, "What is the reason?" - "My arm is injured but the wound isn't the reason. I'm crying because of what takes place at the front: losses, losses, losses! No rescue. As a new regiment arrived - it exists just for two hours of fighting. Terrible losses." I asked some injured soldiers who passed us if Karmanovo was already seized. "What is Karmanovo?" - was the answer. They didn't know anything but blood and death. Burned villages, burning villages. Some soldiers being shot there fell into the flames...
It is impossible to get used to the deaths of your fellow-soldiers. It is completely different from a death of some elderly person. Here, at the front, you see the death of a young man who just a moment before rubbed shoulders or socialized with you and you understand that you could be in his place:
After one of these fights I almost lost my mind. I killed three Germans. And when the fight was over and I calmed down a bit I noticed that there were only two dead bodies of those whom I killed. I started to run in the trench: where is the third German??? Where?? I was turning german bodies and was looking for "my german", the red-haired one. As I was killing him I noticed that he was red-haired. I was worried that he survived and crawled away, in which case I should find him and kill this f.... bastard. I was like a wild beast. Anyway, usually, even if we would manage to capture the first trench, then after few hours Germans would get it back. They would shoot at us from mortars, would bomb us for a long time and then counterattack. We would not have enough people to try fight for this trench and we would have to retreat.
As soon as the first echelon burst ahead, it came under a strong direct fire, both the tanks and infantrymen were beaten. Our echelon entered such a zone where only the shells' hisses were heard and the explosions took place far behind us. However, one shell fell to our share: I heard the hiss and: lost consciousness. I lay like a log: didn't budge, didn't hear, and didn't speak:
I remember how we were on duty guarding the truck loaded with bread. It was in December already, frost! But we wore thermal clothes: quilted trousers and jackets, short fur coats, sheepskin coats and valenki (kind of felt boots). So you looked as a Santa Claus pacing back and forth with a rifle in his hand. And all your thoughts were only about something edible. Daydreams were – smoked sausages and hams…