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.
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.
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.
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 …
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 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.
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...
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.”
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.”
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…
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.