Some older soldier had dug himself a small hole and was sitting in it. He said, "What are you crawling for? Jump in here!" I jumped. I could not sit there for too long! I sat for a little. I said, "I can't stay any longer!" I crawled forward, got a wounded soldier, and started crawling back. I crawled back to the trench, but there was a chunk missing from the soldier's head.
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.
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.
Once I saw what the “psych-attack” was. It happened in late November 1943, shortly after our arrival in the Yelets area. The Germans were drunk and attacked us in rank with their SMG rattling. All of our wagon train men momentarily skedaddled sitting in their wagons but we remained in the trenches. I shot my rifle killing at least five Germans and I didn’t feel any pity for them.
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.
Marusia said: "Let me take the watch now." She got up, it was a sunny day, and she apparently moved the lens. As soon as she got up, there was a shot, and she fell. Oh, how I cried! The German was 200 meters away from us. I screamed so loud it could be heard all over the trenches, soldiers ran out: "Quiet, quiet, or they'll open mortar fire!" But how could I be quiet?
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...
Germans grabbed me, started to beat me with rifle butts, knocked out my pistol from my hands, and when I fell down, started to beat me up with their boots. I did not understand everything that they were shouting, because I had other things to mind. Besides that, they were speaking too quickly and did not pronounce the words till the end; they kind of swallowed the endings. But alas, I could well understand the general meaning: “It was him who was shooting! We should kill this swine! But not here, let’s do it behind the barn, there is a hole there.”
I was a good student in the classroom, but in the vehicle itself I had to stand on my tiptoes just to try and reach the gunsight. The shoots were early in the morning, too, I didn’t really see the target at all – sent all my three practice shells into the empty sky. The assault gun commander was a veteran tanker, fought in T-70s, came to us straight from the hospital. When I finished, he nearly cried, and told me: “son, what am I going to do with you once we get to the front? The assault gun exists to fire at tanks over open sights – if we can’t shoot, we’ll just be a practice target for them.”
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…
They sent in 5 T-34 tanks with mine-clearing attachments ahead of us. The mine-clearing tanks are pretty slow, and the Germans immediately destroyed three of them…seeing this, we all rushed forward, hoping to get lucky…the minefield was made up of massive anti-tank mines, each with 100-200 kilograms of explosives. Any crew that drove over one of these went straight to heaven, their assault guns just disintegrated. A third of our assault guns blew up then and there…After fifteen minutes we reached the now-empty German village. Aside from those who died in the minefields, we had no losses. Most of the crews dismounted and began scavenging for “trophies”, but my guys stayed in the assault gun. I always thought it was a bad omen to take something that doesn’t belong to you. All of a sudden I saw a friend of mine named Topkasov carrying a new pair of leather boots, and instantly got the feeling that something bad was about to happen…
My duties as a technical specialist included examining German tanks. During the Kursk battles, we held our first seminar with all our tank crews on the vulnerabilities of German tanks, including the Tiger and Panther models. These seminars were one of the technical unit’s responsibilities. By this time we had fairly decent data on these tanks. Basically, you had to hit them in the flank or in the tracks, since the front was pretty well-armored. You could also get them from the rear, but that was a difficult shot to make, you basically had to wait until the target tank turned around.
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.
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.
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.
Some time later I saw our battalion’s refueller, Kostin go by. Kostin was an old stager, had been at Stalingrad, with a KV regiment. In an assemble area that Kostin got together youngsters never seen the battle and was telling them his Stalingrad experiences:
“You know, KV armor’s great! Once the Germans shot us with a blank, I see it red crawling in through the armor. I got a sledge-hammer and hit it big time, it went off!”
Young blokes listened carefully, did not know much about front. I went aside, laughed. Then I said:
“Kostin, knock it off, fuel me”.
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...
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.
The loading took a long time, German and Russian swearing poured, polizeis' whips struck, prisoners moaned, fell from the beam unable to take the shoving, Germans shot those too weak without pity, and so, settling near the wall in the corner, we even felt cozy, since there was no danger of being executed anymore.
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.
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.
I knew he was a fascist, that they had attacked our country, they killed, burned, hanged our people, but he was still a human being. It was such a condition... When I killed the second one, I was in a horrible state again. Why? Because I saw him through my optical sight: a young officer. He seemed to look at me and suddenly I killed him. But he was a human being! Basically, a horrible state. But afterwards I grew somehow desensitized. I killed - it was supposed to be that way.