Notes on the Polish Campaign and the War with Finland in 1939-1940 Written by their participant, a Soviet Army officer, M. I. Lukinov
The Polish and Finnish events of 1939-1940 are little covered in history and literature. It's as if they were eclipsed by the immensity of the Patriotic War, which followed them. Nevertheless, the signing of the non-aggression pact with Germany, temporary destruction and division of pan Poland (Pan is the Polish word for master/mister, in this way the communists declared that only the Polish ruling class, not the people, were the enemy. Other examples include: fascist Germany, samurai Japan, boyar Romania - trans.) and also the war with Finland were events which cannot be forgotten. The author of these lines had the honor to directly participate in both the Polish campaign and the fighting against the White Finns (this term comes from the Civil War, in which the Finns sided with the Whites against the Reds - trans.), and has taken upon himself to describe everything he lived through, experienced, and saw.
It was the uneasy 1939. There was war in Europe, which threatened to draw near our borders. I was only 32 and could, as a reserve officer, be mobilized into the army any day. But somehow I didn't want to believe that there would be war. I worked, as usual, as an engineer in my Rosspromproekt Institute designing construction materials factories. I had been promised a vacation in the end of the summer of 1939, which I was going to spend in the south, on the coast of the gentle Black Sea. But my plans were ruined by a military commissariat summons: "Come with personal belongings." That was a shock. I ran to our Bauman District Military Commissariat and started asking for permission to go on vacation first, and then "come with belongings." They told me strictly: "What vacation? You have been mobilized. Don't you know that the war is starting?!" What war? With whom? I couldn't understand. The next day I was already riding on the Moscow-Kiev train "with belongings."
Mikhail Lukinov, January 1939.
In those times trains were comparatively slow and were pulled by steam locomotives. The cars were equipped with three rows of wooden bunks painted with green oil paint. At the stations, the passengers ran out for hot water with tin kettles and the train's departures were signaled by manually ringing a bell. Recent, but already archaic times.
The car was overcrowded and, in order to sleep, I had to climb up onto the third baggage shelf, and even tie myself to a heating pipe with a belt so that I wouldn't fall off because of rocking. A group of us officers was sent from Kiev to Belaya Tserkov', known to us from Pushkin's "Poltava". But we didn't find a "quiet Ukrainian night" there. On the contrary, there was a horrible bustle around us. A rifle (infantry) division was being hastily formed from reservist Ukrainian "uncles". As an artillery man, I was put into the regimental battery of the 306th Rifle Regiment. An artillery man, and into an infantry regiment! It was hard, but what could I do? I had to take the black tabs off my uniform, and saw the red ones on, even if with crossed cannons. There were nine officers in the battery, all of them, except me, a reservist, were regulars, and at first I didn't even have any defined duties. I was something like an aide-de-camp for the battery commander. In those times the junior officers in the army were not distinguished by high culture. Even people with secondary education were rare among them. They were men who remained to serve beyond their term, served for several years, who were taught direct and indirect fire in various schools and training classes. But they knew the general military order and discipline very well. Overall, they were nice sociable guys, mostly junior lieutenants. Having seen that even though I had two cubes on my tabs (a lieutenant), but wasn't a snob, they accepted me into their family. The battery commander was also from the same stock, but already with three cubes (a senior lieutenant). In order to make himself look like a commander, he gave himself airs and estranged himself from us. His physiognomy was impenetrable, horse-like, always stony, badly damaged by smallpox. He feared any kind of familiarity because he saw it as undermining discipline. He treated me with guarded reserve, seeing an "alien" in me, an educated one at that. We also had an artillery chief of the regiment, who was in charge of our artillery and a mortar battery. He was more favorably disposed toward me. We received 76mm guns, but short barreled ones, model 1927, which were pulled by two pairs of horses. We also received horses. I got a huge gray riding horse named Doll. We started forming platoons, rode out into the field, fired training shots, trained the soldiers. The regiment commander was pressing us to hurry, everything was being done hastily. We hadn't finished forming when we received the order to march. A familiar command sounded: "Form a marching column! Platoon HQ in the lead! Forward march!" And we set out. Where? Why? Only the superiors knew about that. Or maybe, even they didn't know? Soon we realized that we were being led westward, to the Polish border.
Meanwhile, the political developments continued. Germany attacked Poland and captured main Polish lands. Our government had signed a non-aggression pact with Germany. Molotov, in his well-known speech, called Poland an "ugly child of the Versailles Treaty." And it was decided to liberate Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, seized by the pan Poland in the past. The Soviet forces had to be quickly thrown forward to the dividing demarcation line with Germany. By that time we had already been pulled close to the Polish territory; and now, raised by an alarm, we started crossing this, now former, border.
The infantry units of our regiment marched in front, and we pulled our guns behind them. I remember a striped border post with a Polish eagle that had been knocked to the ground, a Polish border village of accurate white houses of some unfamiliar medieval architecture, with a cathedral. The Poles watched our invasion gloomily and apprehensively. Really, what were they thinking?
Dirt roads and poor Ukrainian villages with straw roofs and barefoot peasants laid beyond the immaculate Polish border village, obviously a window dressing. The Ukrainians lived badly under the pans' oppression. We found out about all of that later, when we were billeted in a Ukrainian village. And so, we were advancing over the former Polish land to the west. The first night stop. A poor Ukrainian house: dirt floor, filth, roaches, half-naked children. I started talking to one little girl of maybe 10 years, dug 20 kopecks out of my pocket and gave them to her as a keepsake. She was struck by such a rich gift and yelled: "Mommy, I have twenty kopecks!" Apparently, she held such an amount of money for the first time in her life.
Soon we received an order to load all the regiment's unmounted soldiers into trucks and hastily throw them to the demarcation line that cut Poland in half. The horse transport, supply trains, and guns were supposed to continue the march at their speed. We formed a detachment from unmounted battery men, which was supposed to ide with the infantry. Of course, I was put in charge of it. At night, on the highway, I was stopping the trucks with infantry and was fitting my soldiers in there with curses. I got on the last truck. We traveled for several days through the entire Western Ukraine in this manner. There were many meetings and impressions which are, unfortunately, gone from my memory.
I remember how we entered some town and stopped in the middle of the market. The vendors with trays ran to the trucks from all sides, offering us their wares. (It must be noted that during the entry of our troops into the former Polish territory a practical currency exchange rate was established: one zloty was made equal to one ruble.) One of the vendors brought a tray with pierogi to our truck. An infantryman sitting next to me asked about the price. "Three kopecks, pan, can't sell them cheaper, there is war now." The soldier took a green three ruble paper out his pocket and said: "Give me a hundred." "Why do you need so many?" I asked. "It's OK, comrade lieutenant, I'll find use for them." He really did use all of them. He ate the entire hundred, despite the envious glances and requests of his comrades. A real Ukrainian kulak.
The traders immediately understood the nature of the market and in fifteen minutes the pierogies already cost 15 kopecks. We were mainly fed wheat porridge, black bread, and tea from field kitchens. Some technical unit was following us, they had rice, white bread, and cocoa. Nothing you could do: we were infantry, first in advance and last in supply. Once, late in the day, we stopped for the night in some town. The trucks were driven into a schoolyard, and we settled until morning in the classrooms. I was very hungry. I took two of my soldiers (the officers were prohibited from walking alone) and went to look for some restaurant. We soon saw some small bar in a basement, where the windows were brightly lit and music was playing. When we entered the hall, the three of us in army coats, helmets, boots with spurs, and weapons, a slight commotion occurred. The band stopped playing. Some customers got up in fear. They saw Soviets for the first time in their lives. I greeted everyone politely and asked the musicians to continue playing. We were being examined with curiosity. The owner stood behind the bar, a fat man in an unbuttoned vest, with a cigarette in his mouth. I felt like I was in the middle of a shoot of some pre-revolutionary film. "Vodka, schnapps?" - the fat man asked me. "No, " - I replied - "three coffees and three sandwiches." "It was 12 at night according to my watch, but a large round clock behind the bar showed only 10. I didn't immediately realize the possible difference in time and told the owner with surprise that it was 12 now. He smiled, took his cigarette butt out of his mouth, and said proudly, gesturing in my direction: "We're on European time." It had to be seen the way he said it: "We are Europe!" In the miserable pan Poland the clock was on London time. "Now you'll have to move your clock to the Moscow time," - I replied. The owner of the bar shrugged, as if saying "We'll see." Having finished coffee and settled the tab, we left those "Europeans".
Here I'll allow myself a short digression and recall another anecdote, which happened many years after the Patriotic war, when the Polish state was reestablished and the Soviet Marshal Rokossovskiy, an ethnic Pole, was appointed the commander of the Polish Army. He arrived to Poland. In the beginning he was shown Warsaw, and one of the Polish generals asked: "Pan marshal, how do you like Europe?" The marshal replied: "Apparently, you don't know geography well."
We marched for the last stages of our journey. Again there were Ukrainian villages and small towns with Jewish and Polish population. Germans had already been there. But before pulling back, they pillaged. But they were a cultured nation, that's why they didn't burst into stores, threatening with their guns. They robbed in a "cultured" way. They entered stores, selected the best merchandise, ordered it to be packed ("Raskep, raskep"), and then took their "purchases" and left: "The Russians are coming behind us, they'll pay for everything."
I entered one of the stores to buy some small thing. The textiles were spread on the counter, they had been looked at by some infantry soldiers before me. I stroked the fabric and suddenly felt that there was some object under it on the counter. A rifle was lying under the fabric, it had been forgotten by these Ukrainian "uncles". I had to take this rifle with me.
Red Army soldiers. Luga, 1938
We finally reached the demarcation line, which followed the Bug River. We could see how the shovels flashed on the other side of the river. Those were Germans fortifying their positions and digging trenches. The river was not very wide in that spot, and temporary bridges were thrown over to the other side. Some silhouettes could be seen using them to cross the river: some to our side, others from us. It's strange that no one hindered that in the first days. One of our officers told us that he saw some man approach the German guard on the other side and point that he needed to get to the other, that is our, side. The guard simply kicked him in the ass, and the man ran to us over the bridge. That was during the day, running back and forth intensified after dark. Yells and shooting started.
They said that one of our guards, a Ukrainian "uncle", kept muttering while standing guard near the bridge: "Let a good man come to us, let a bad man leave."
In three-four days after our arrival, our border guards in green caps came, with dogs, and closed this temporary border tightly. We were pulled several kilometers back from the demarcation line, but we were often raised by an alarm at night even there. One night some two men were stealing through to the German side. There was a small lake not far from our disposition, where a local fisherman usually fished. There were remains of barbed wire barriers in front of that lake. Those two approached the lake in the dark, and thinking that it was Bug before them, they tore through the barbed wire and started swimming. And got lost. Started drowning. The fisherman heard their screams, came with his boat, and started pulling them out. One of them asked in Polish: "Is this the German side?" The fisherman said: "Yes." Hauled them in and brought them almost suffocated to his house. Because of them we were again raised by an alarm in the night, thinking that there were more than two of these defectors. In the morning I saw how these drowned men were loaded into a car to send them where they belonged. They turned out to be Polish officers who ran away from a POW camp.
It was unquiet on the border. During nighttime, someone from our side wrote intricate lines on the dark low clouds with a flashlight beam. They were replied to from the other side in the similar fashion. And we couldn't catch anyone. German officers came, supposedly to search for buried remains of their countrymen, but, in reality, to spy on our dispositions and what forces we had. But we also drove them so they wouldn't see anything they weren't supposed to.
Soon our division was pulled back far into the rear. The regiment was quartered in a small dirty town of Staryy Sambor. Mainly Jews lived there, traders and craftsmen, who serviced the Ukrainian villages. But there was no room for our battery with its guns, supply wagons, and horses even in Staryy Sambor. We were allocated a village of Blazhow, which was separated from Staryy Sambor by another 7-8 km of dirt roads. In order to decide on our quarters, the superiors ordered me to go into the village and make a schematic map of it location. Our sergeant major came with me on his supply business. We rode horses.
The village turned out to be a large, spread out one. It had a Uniate church and a folwark - a small landlord estate, whose owner, a Pole, ran away to the Germans. I made rough notes and, after returning to our battery, drafted the map cleanly with colored pencils, labeled everything, even showed some buildings in perspective. The superiors were happy, but didn't show it. They couldn't spoil their subordinates. That could make them conceited. But the sergeant major (as I was told), while sitting near a fire at night, in his company, told everyone with surprise that the lieutenant had simply passed through the village making some marks on a piece of paper, and then drew such a map: "This man, guys, was not a herder back home."
Soon we moved to Blazhow. We chose the folwark as the center of our disposition and placed the guns in its yard. The officers were quartered in the landlord's house, and soldiers - in surrounding peasant villages. We put the horses in the folwark's farm structures. The landlord's house had been completely pillaged by the Germans, and then peasants, so that only naked walls remained there. Only the former office contained a large desk with empty drawers. The desk wasn't carried away because it didn't fit through the narrow doors of the office. At first we had to make do with straw instead of furniture, which replaced both chairs and beds for us. We put our field phone on the only desk, its line was laid to the regiment HQ, in Staryy Sambor.
It was unquiet. Some bandits would sometimes shoot during the night. Someone would cut our communications wire, and then the battery was raised by an alarm in the night. We took up all-round defense in the dark around the folwark, waiting for a possible attack. But dawn came, and our apprehensions evaporated.
But we were warned from the regiment's HQ that we had to be vigilant, that there were cases when Soviet soldiers were killed in dark alleys, stabbed in barber shops, and so on. Being quartered in a Ukrainian village, we saw for ourselves how poorly the western Ukrainians lived in pan Poland. Only Poles had all the rights in that country. Only they could work in government service. A Ukrainian couldn't even be a simple laborer on road construction - that was government work. A Ukrainian could become a Pole, but for that he had to change faith and become a Catholic. The measures had been taken for gradual transfer of Ukrainians into Catholicism. The Orthodox faith was substituted by Uniate, something in the middle between Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Ukrainians were pressed by taxes. There was even a tax from each chimney, and after crossing the border we were surprised that houses stood without chimneys. The smoke from stoves was released straight into the attic under the roof. Fires were frequent.
We were sometimes asked if it was allowed to build chimneys now. We replied that not only was it allowed, it was necessary. In the late autumn the peasants would walk to church barefoot. They cleaned their dirty feet on the grass in front of the church, put their boots on, and entered. When leaving, they took their boots off and hung them around their necks. One pair of boots served a peasant all his life, and when dying, he passed them on to his son. There was a post office with a telegraph in the village, which now stood idle. But there still remained a telegraphist - a Pole, a very beautiful and proud girl. There was always a line of suitors around her. Not only our soldiers and sergeants ran there, but some of our single officers as well. Trouble was brewing among suitors. They said that someone even asked the superiors to marry that beauty. But all that abruptly came to an end in a most unexpected way.
One night, while on duty near the field phone, one of our signalers noticed that one of the desk's drawers was shorter than the others. Why? It turned out that there was a secret drawer on the back side of the desk, the one turned to the wall. There was worthless Polish money and a photo album in it. The photographs showed how the beautiful telegraphist had merrily spent her time with the folwark's owner. In some pictures, she danced naked on a table full of bottles, in others, she laid embraced by some moustached men, and so on. The album started being passed around between soldiers. Some soldier in love started a row with the girl, and she quickly disappeared from the village. The battery commander took the album away from the soldiers and lost it somewhere. I didn't see the album.
A night of bonding with the local population was organized. The entire village of Blazhow assembled in some large and spacious house. Our politruk (political officer) made a speech about the end of pan Poland, about the Red Army's mission of liberation. The local priest replied in the name of the population, he thanked us for liberating them and noted that "we have same blood, same faith." Then the local band consisting of a violin, a bag pipe, and a drum started playing, dances began. The people started asking us questions about life in the Soviet Union, about which they had only had wild rumors in Poland. Our sergeant major distinguished himself there. In those times, we officers were dressed very modestly, in the same camouflage tunics as the soldiers, the only difference was that our collar tabs had cubes on them and red cloth "angles" were sawed to our sleeves. But our sergeant major wore a cloth uniform encircled with yellow squeaky belts. And he pinned, besides the rectangles, golden "angles" which had been removed from the uniform long ago, to his collar tabs. In the eyes of the population he was the chief commander, they asked him the questions. Girls asked him if it was true that we didn't have weddings in Russia anymore, that they were abolished, and everyone lived with whoever they liked. The sergeant major replied pompously: "People speak of different things, but lice infested ones always speak about a bath." Of course, there was laughter and embarrassment.
One time in Staryy Sambor I went to a small private metal workshop to order a cleaning rod for my handgun and met the shop owner's sisters, two Jewish girls. They had graduated from a Polish school in Novyy Sambor and were very interested in the Soviet Union. They dreamed of going to the Union to attend a university, "where, they say, it's free." When I was in Staryy Sambor, I would visit these two sisters and teach them Russian, which seemed easy and understandable to them. But once, to prove that it was far from truth, I read the opening of "Yevgeniy Onegin" to them, which they, of course, couldn't understand. These poor girls probably perished in 1941, when Western Ukraine was captured by Germans, who killed all Jews there.
Sometimes I needed to visit Novyy Sambor on business. It was a pretty decent Polish town, which had a restaurant and good stores. Once I went into a haberdashery and asked them to show me some ties. The store's owner, winking at a Polish woman behind me, as if saying "what would this barbarian in a gray greatcoat understand about ties", gave me a box with some cheap stuff for peasants. I pushed the box away and asked her to show me something better. The owner's face registered surprise when this barbarian picked out and bought a dozen of the most elegant and beautiful ties, which served me a long time after that.
Mikhail Lukinov, 1939
The streets were full of some men who offered to sell watches, razors, chocolate, socks, and other merchandise to the Soviet military personnel. One of these hustlers glued himself to me, offering suit lengths. I kept waving him away, but he wouldn't leave me alone. At that time blue Boston suits were popular in Moscow. I finally asked that man if he had blue Boston. "I have it, pan comrade, I have it." And offered to follow him. He led me through some intercommunicating yards, from one to another, so that I lost direction, didn't know where the main street of the town was. He descended into some basement in one of the yards, from that basement he led me to another one, and asked me to wait. I looked around. It was some concrete bunker without windows. A light bulb near the ceiling was barely lit. Suddenly, beyond the door through which that man had disappeared, I heard slight metallic clanking, as if someone was loading a rifle, opening and closing the bolt. I unbuttoned my holster and hurried outside into the yard. I stopped there to wait for further developments. But everything was quiet, and the seller of Boston didn't appear. I had to get out of the labyrinth of the yards to the main street, where it was safer. I still don't know if I avoided mortal danger or simply left myself without a blue Boston suit.
The pan Poland was falling apart. Polish currency was living its last days. The locals aimed to sell everything for Soviet rubles, and to give change in Polish currency. Pretty Polish girls walked in the streets of Novyy Sambor and, with charming smiles, asked Soviet officers to break large Polish banknotes into Soviet money. But there were hardly any fools, even though the suppliants were very charming. One girl simply hanged herself on me, asking me to break a hundred zlotys. I replied that I wasn't rich enough to make her a hundred ruble gift.
Polish banknotes were decorated with portraits of countless Polish kings and queens. Once I heard how our soldier, buying cheap cigarettes from a street vendor, started yelling: "I'm giving you good Soviet money, and you foist (such and such) Polish queen on me as change?!"
I had a complicated relationship with the regiment's chief of staff Captain Severin. He was haughty, demanded that everyone follow regulations to the letter; he didn't like us, reservists. Once I was called on the phone from Staryy Sambor to come to Severin. I reported that to the battery commander, took another soldier with me, we saddled our horses and rode the muddy roads through the rain. We arrived wet outside, sweaty inside. The HQ was located in a former school. It was hot in the large room, kerosene lamps were burning; Severin was pacing the room, dictating something to the clerks, who were writing. Water was pouring off my cap, so I took it off and held it horizontally on my bent left arm. When the captain finally turned to me, I reported my arrival. Severin suddenly fell on me: "Where have you come to? A pub or a land office? How do you behave yourself?" and so on. I stood there without understanding anything. The clerks were giggling behind Severin's back, pointing at me. The captain went on yelling. Everything was coming to a boil in me. Finally, Severin revealed the reason for his wrath: "Why did you, when you entered, remove your cap? What were you trying to say by that? Don't you see that your superiors are wearing their head dress? Why do you report without your cap?!" I couldn't hold it and blurted out: "Just a cultured person's habit, to remove the head dress when entering a room." "Is that so?!" - the captain thundered. "Yes, it's so," - I replied. "About face! Forward march!" - he commanded. I turned around according to all the regulations, clinked with my spurs, and exited onto the porch. I stood there, waited for a rather long time - nothing. Then we tightened saddle-girths and rode back. And so I didn't find out why Severin called me. Possibly, he liked the colorful maps which I drew for our battery and wanted to entrust me with all cartographic work in the regiment's HQ, or maybe, transfer me completely to work in the HQ. Of course, it would've been easier and safer there than in the ranks. But being under a boss like Severin wouldn't have been like chocolate either. This episode didn't pass without consequences. Severin didn't forget our encounter and paid me back any way he could later.
Meanwhile, things in Europe continued heating up. We obviously started being put into a state of battle readiness. Intensified training started, firing of live ammo. I was ordered to lecture the soldiers of the entire battery on patriotism, our duty to defend the Motherland. I didn't have any materials available, I had to talk about Russian history from memory, starting with the Tatar invasion. They said I wasn't bad, although the judges weren't very competent. They started replacing our weapons by more modern ones. But when we were given warm clothes, started making skis for guns, limbers, and caissons, we realized that we were being prepared for action in Finland, where the war had been going by then. But those were only suppositions, because they didn't tell anything even to us, officers.
The things were uneasy on the threshold of the new year, 1940. We, junior officers, decided to celebrate the New Year. We bought a little wine, hors-d'oeuvres. Our politruk found out about that and called us all to him several hours before the New Year for the latest political session. First he told us about the current political events, then he said that the New Year celebration was a bourgeois custom, which did not suit Soviet people, much less Red Army officers. He fed us hot milk with black bread and let us go practically in the morning, when the new year was there for a while.
Winter came, snows fell, and we started getting ready to march. I was put in charge of the signals platoon, telephone and radio operators. There was a lot of equipment, and the men were mostly willful. We re-shoed the horses, changed the oil in guns' recoil systems, loaded equipment onto the carts.
Once, during the latest roll-call of my platoon, I approached a soldier standing in the formation, and pointed out the poor condition of his boots. He quickly bent down, and the bayonet of his rifle, which he held on his shoulder, scratched my forehead and cheek. If I stood at least one-two centimeters closer to the soldier, I could've been left without an eye.
The situation was uneasy and sad not only in our battery. Things were also uneasy around us. Agitation for the creation of collective farms started in the villages. "Purges" began in the cities. Anyone who fit the category of bourgeoisie, store owners, traders, were arrested and deported. But the majority of the Jewish population lived by trade.
In the middle of January 1940 we got an order to march to the nearest railroad station for loading into trains. We formed a marching column. It was a freezing snow covered road. We set out in the morning, we were planning to reach the station by night and start loading. The winter day was short, it became dark early. We were passing through some town. Apparently, there was some local celebration there. Music played in many houses, the windows were lit. One of our mounted soldiers, cold and hungry, looked into an open window from the top of his horse and yelled: "Having a feast, scum, just wait until they come for you." Probably, those were prophetic words.
Sudden misfortune struck me. Two of my radio operators disappeared. I reported that to the battery commander. He grew angry, told me that I should've ridden at the rear of my platoon, not at the front. Then there wouldn't have been any stragglers. He ordered me to ride back and look for them, by myself. I rode my tired horse back, but those stragglers weren't to be found anywhere. I visited the HQ of some unit, but they didn't know anything there. I stopped in some village. The tired horse was thirsty. I gave her water from a pool with a tarpaulin bucket, which I had in my saddle bag. The frost was strong, and it was getting late. I turned back. The horse slipped on a turn, and I, tired and sitting carelessly, flew out of the saddle into the snow. The horse ran on. I got up from the snowdrift, all covered in snow, thinking that I was finished. I had lost my horse. But no, my darling Doll, having run about 10 meters, stopped and started looking back at me. I ran to her, stroked her, pressed my cheek against her neck. Took out some chocolate from a field bag, and we started eating it together. Doll was snorting and taking the treat from my hand with her wet lips. I started leading her along the snow covered road. It was a dark frosty night. I was alone, my strength was leaving me. I saw a solitary, apparently, a "kulak", farm, on a hill off to the side of the deserted forest road. I had no choice. I approached the gate and started knocking. No one replied for a long time. Finally, some voice asked in Polish about what I needed. I said I was a Russian officer and asked them to let me in for the night. The windows lit. Some shadows were walking there. Apparently, they deliberated, consulted on whether they should've let me in or not. Or maybe, let me in and then kill me... Finally, a man with a lantern opened the gate. I led my horse into a warm barn, where cows were mooing, put Doll into a free stall. I barely managed to take the heavy saddle off her, replaced the bridle by a tether, rubbed her with a wisp of straw, poured some oats from the bag for her, put some straw at her legs.
I entered the house. A kerosene lamp with the wick turned down was barely lit. The silent hosts watched me. I said that I needed to rest a little until morning, asked for something to eat. They brought a tin cup of milk and a few boiled potatoes. I ate this modest supper, put three rubles on the table, and again went out to my horse. Now I could water her. Having drunk her fill, Doll laid down on the straw. I wanted to sleep badly, but was there a certainty that I would wake up? There were many cases when Soviets were killed quietly. No one knew that I was here. How easy would it have been for these people, who sooner saw an enemy than a friend in me, to kill me while I was asleep? The horse, the saddle, handguns, field glasses, boots, clothes - all that was valuable, and easy to take. And who would start looking for me? The battery was being loaded and would depart, considering me a straggler. I took my greatcoat and boots off, transferred the equipment to my uniform, and fell flat on the bed, having pushed the handgun in its holster under my stomach. And fell dead asleep. Several hours passed. It started getting a little lighter. I had to go, because I could be late for loading, and where would I go then with my horse? How would I catch up to the train with it?
I dressed, saddled Doll, and set out. The sun rose. Some people were clearing the road from snow. There was the railroad, and the station. But, alas, all was empty. My heart froze. Was I really late and the battery gone? I found the railroad manager and the military commandant. It turned out that my battery hadn't arrived yet and stopped for the night in a neighboring village. The loading only started in the afternoon. And my disappeared radio men came. It turned out that these scoundrels, instead of marching with everyone, decided to get to the station in a truck going the same way. I would've put them under arrest for maybe ten days on bread and water another time. But we were in the middle of loading, and there was not time for that. And so, their base trick went unpunished.
We loaded into "teplushkas" - freight cars with bunks and small iron stoves, every commander with his platoon. When the stoves were stoked, it was hot on top and cold below. Then we set out northward. And so, all doubts disappeared, we were being taken to fight in Finland. The time of year was cold, and the further our train went, the stronger were the frosts. My place was on the second bunk, near a small window whose glass was covered by ice. One night, when I was a sleep, a lock of my hair froze to the ice on the glass. The train moved slowly, which did not make us especially sad. We didn't particularly want to hurry to the meeting with war. I conducted training sessions with soldiers about the communications equipment, lectured on the topics of current politics. At the various stations we were often asked to sell makhorka (very strong and cheap Russian tobacco - trans.) that we were given out. I, as a nonsmoker, usually gave my makhorka to the soldiers. But once, at a station, an old railroad worker approached me wanting to buy makhorka. I had a pack, which I gave to him, but refused to take his money. Then that old man told me, somehow with a heartfelt conviction: "God grant you remain alive." Honestly, I later recalled this wish, because you become superstitious during a war. So when I came out unharmed from dangerous situations, I involuntarily thought that I had bought my life with a pack of makhorka.
Bologoye is halfway between Moscow and Leningrad. We arrived there in the early morning. The men were still sleeping in the cars. All tracks were stuffed with trains of military equipment. We came to a stop hear a train loaded with disassembled aircraft. I was the duty officer, so I had to go to the military commandant and report our arrival. Looking at the cannons on my tabs, the commandant thought that a unit of some artillery regiment had arrived, smiled cordially and told me: "Just arrived? Well, now you'll have to stay with us for a while. We will put you into a siding now. Give me your papers." I handed them. Having seen our train number, in which the fateful word "infantry" was encrypted, the commandant frowned. The smile disappeared from his face and he said in a different, stern, voice: "Tell the men not to get out of the cars. We'll send you along immediately." And we rolled on to Leningrad at once. We suspected that in the woods and swamps of Finland infantry must've been the main striking force and must've suffered the biggest casualties. That's why we weren't surprised when we were hurried forward along the main track leading to the front. Infantry was need there, ahead. Infantry - that was us.
And then there was Leningrad - the great city of Peter and Lenin, city of the revolution that shook the world, city of beautiful architectural ensembles, palaces, and museums. But it couldn't be recognized now. It was a different Leningrad, cold, harsh, frontline city, gloomy, darkened, covered with frost and filled with snow. We unloaded at a freight station. Guns, caissons, carts, wagons, and anything pulled by horses was sent through the city under its own steam. Trams with frost covered windows arrived for the unmounted personnel and carried us through the dark frozen streets to the northern end of the city. We passed through the city and got off in a suburban village, where we billeted in the peasant houses in terrible overcrowding. But we were glad for any shelter during those strong frosts. The officers were called for instructions. We were ordered to march the next day, cross the Finnish border, and enter the battle zone. To be prepared for any vicissitudes of war. Already in the night, exhausted, I returned to the house where my platoon was camped. I opened the door but couldn't go further than the threshold. Worn out soldiers laid side by side on the benches, on the floor, packed close to one another. I sat down on the threshold, then laid down in the same spot and fell asleep.
The 306th Rifle Regiment participated in the Finnish Campaign as a part of the 62nd Rifle Division. This division was formed in Belaya Tserkov' and Fastov in the Kiev Military District. It was put into the 13th Army on the Karelian Isthmus by the 18.01.1940 order. It received an order to concentrate around the village of Lipola (right on the border) on 30.01.1940. The division arrived to the front on 03.02.1940 and on 17.02.1940 was transferred to the 23rd Rifle Corps from the 13th Army reserve. Relocated from Lipola to Kangaspelto on 17-20.02.1940. Participated in the offensive on Volossula on 19.02.1940, Kelya 20.02.1940, was located in the area of Mutaranta for the period of 21-23.02.1940. Entrained on 21.03.1940 and moved to the Kiev MD from Leningrad. The information is taken from the first volume of "Greet Us, Beautiful Suomi", Volume 1, St.Petersburg 1999, ISBN 5-8172-0022-8, editor - Yevgeniy Balashov, published by OOO Galea Print. Bair Irincheev
Excerpt from a stenography of the April 14-17, 1940 conference of senior army officers at the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Contained a speech of colonel V.V. Kryukov commander of 306 rifle regiment.
We formed a marching column in the morning and approached the Finnish border, which, as it turned out, closely adjoined Leningrad's suburbs. We were struck. A huge city, one of the most important centers of our country, was next to the border with a hostile state. Border posts and "no man's land". From our side of the border, in open spots not protected woods, wire nets with fir and pine branches entwined were set. As it turned out, that was our border guards' camouflage against bandit shots from the Finnish side. And so, after the Polish one, we crossed our second border. Because it was necessary.
The Finnish land. Houses burned during retreat, bridges blown up, black craters from shell and mine explosions. Signs were placed in some spots, saying that all movement should only be conducted on the road, since mines camouflaged with snow had been placed on the sides. Field phone wires, abandoned by Finns, were very noticeable in the snow, thin, light, in colored plastic insulation. Our communication wires were heavy, steel ones, in thick black insulation. Metal reels of such wire were heavy, and couldn't be easily rolled and unrolled.
The front line in the Karelian Isthmus February 1st 1940.
Provided by The battles of Winter war
The frost was horrible. Riding was impossible. We walked, leading the horses. Horses' fur was covered with frost. Combat engineers built fires along the roads over which our troops were moving. You could warm yourself a little, even if suffocating in the smoke. Toward the end of this first day we stopped for the night in the quarters of a combat engineer unit, which looked after roads and fixed bridges. It was located in warm sheds and barns of some estate, whose main buildings and houses had been burned by Finns during their retreat. These sheds and barns seemed almost like palaces to us. The combat engineers' hospitality, something that occurred rarely, was very touching.
The next day we started approaching the front itself. First thing that struck us were the frozen corpses of our soldiers and officers lying there, already powdered with snow. They lied here death found them, in various positions. We were used to treat our dead with respect. A coffin, funeral service, the celebration of farewell, everyone around whispering, covering mirrors, stopping their watches. But here, it was as if contempt toward death was underscored. As if they were saying to us, those going forward, that death was an ordinary occurrence in his place. They were killed, so let them lie, nothing extraordinary had happened. There was war her, and everything was different from the way it was in civilian life. You had to get used to it.
Soon we approached the frontline, which had the latest line of Finnish fortifications before it. Units of our forces to the left and right gladly made room for us, giving our division a separate sector. I heard later how infantry officers said with malice that the "neighbors" had opened up the hottest spot for us, withdrawing to quieter sectors.
Yes, we came to the "Mannerheim Line". Lines of concrete pillboxes, bristling with muzzles of artillery pieces and machine guns, stood on sandy wood covered hills. Unfreezing "windows" were cut in the ice of lowland swamps between the pillboxes, in a checkered pattern, filled with oil and powdered by snow on top. Falling into such "window" meant certain death. Besides, the area between the pillboxes was exposed to cross fire from the pillboxes.
We stopped. Our 306th Regiment was put in front, the other two regiments of our division deployed behind us, in reserve. As always, we were the "lucky" ones. Started digging to construct shelters. The soil was frozen, we had to blow it up with TNT. We cut down pines for the roofs seeing that wood was in excess in these parts.
For some reason I needed to see the politruk, so I started looking for him. They said he went to get vodka for the battery. I couldn't believe my ears. A teetotaler who ruined our New Year celebration out of fear that we'd drink a glass of light wine, and this man went to get vodka. But it was so. They started giving us 100 grams of vodka a day. It warmed and cheered us during frosts, and it made us not care in combat. In about two days, after we had reached the frontline, the regiment's chief or artillery called all officers of the battery. Announcement was made that the assault of enemy positions was to be the next day. And today, some senior officer from the division's HQ would take a group of officers to reconnoiter. I returned to the battery to tell my deputy platoon commander to take over during my absence. Two of my signaler soldiers started asking me to take them with me "to look at the Finns". I agreed reluctantly.
And so, a group of infantry and artillery officers, 12-15 men, set out of the camp and went northward into the forest. We walked single file over a narrow trail made between deep snow drifts. The senior officer was in the lead, we followed. My curious signalers were bringing up the rear. There was a chain of hills to the right of us, and a hollow sloping downward to the left. The morning was beautiful: frost, blue sky, sunshine, and silence. The only sound was snow squeaking under our feet. We went deeper and deeper into the forest. I looked and couldn't understand, where were our positions, where was the infantry, where were our forward detachments? There was nothing like that, although we had walked pretty far from our camp. There were only pines, snow drifts, and deceptive silence. A feeling of danger and alarm was growing. My signalers, who were walking behind us, started falling farther behind. Apparently, they understood that we were being led straight to Finns for a visit. Suddenly, the forest ended in a perpendicular ravine, and we exited to a clearing. A small frozen river was running on the bottom of the ravine. A bridge was constructed over it, blocked by a barricade of huge rocks. On the other side of the ravine, right in front of us, in no more than 100 meters, the bulk of a concrete pillbox towered, looking at us with cannon and machine gun muzzles through its embrasures. Some people could be seen behind the pillbox, digging communication trenches in the snow. I couldn't believe my eyes. We had been taken into open ground right under the guns of the Finnish pillbox. All our group could be cut down by one machine gun burst. Some sled stood next to us, with a bright blue enamel pot, which sharply contrasted with the white snow. Apparently, that was the point to aim at.
Meanwhile, the senior officer lectured, waving his arms: "The guns should be put here to fire over open sights, the infantry will advance along the bottom of the hollow," - and other things along those lines. My thought worked feverishly: "Why don't the Finns shoot? If they can see us very well?" Two of our group, heartened by the pillbox's silence, descended and started throwing the rocks off the bridge. The senior officer went droning on with his instructions, but the pillbox remained silent, why?
And then, suddenly breaking the silence, shots rang behind us. I looked back. My signalers, who stood on the trail far from us, were shooting their rifles to the left, into the hollow. There, between the trees, figures of skiers in white coveralls appeared, they were getting into our rear, aiming to cut our line of retreat. "Finns!" - I yelled, and the entire group ran back in panic, getting tangled in deep snow. Now it became clear why we hadn't been shot at from the pillbox. They wanted to take us alive by barring our way back. What could we have done with our handguns, sinking in the deep snow, when a detachment of Finns with SMGs surrounded us? Half of us would've been killed, the other half taken prisoner. The enemy needed information about the attacking forces, and they would've tortured it out of those that remained alive. What luck, that the Finnish skiers ran into my signalers, and they started shooting at them. The Finns, of course, couldn't even surmise that only two soldiers turned out to be behind our group (even that by accident), and not a guard platoon. That's why they didn't dare to complete the encirclement.
Our group walked back quickly. Some openly cursed, others were gloomy and silent, understanding how this escapade might have ended. One of us laughed nervously at what happened, trying to cover the scare he received with laughter. The senior officer tried to start talking about something again, but no one was listening to him anymore, everybody tried to get out of this dangerous forest as soon as possible. We were returning to our camp. But the first thing we saw was not our forward detachments, and not the line of infantry, but a field kitchen and a cook, stuffing snow into his pot. Someone from our group told the cook that it had been a bad idea to come so far out, that the Finns were close. "What Finns? I'll get them with my scoop!" Such attitude was characteristic for the majority, until we were soundly bathed in our own blood. Of course, no one thanked me for taking the soldiers that saved our lives with us. The real operations and danger were still ahead.
The day was spent in preparation for tomorrow's battle: I was checking radio and telephone equipment. We were again called for commanders' briefing in the evening. When I returned to our dug-out at night, raised the cloak at the entrance and lit the inside with my flashlight, I was horrified. The soldiers were almost stacked, sand was falling from above - the dug-out was small. I went to spend the night to our politruk. He had a small round tent of his own, with a stove. The politruk was "preparing" for tomorrow's battle by sawing a white collar to his uniform. I went to bed at his place, without undressing, right on the floor, which was made of snow covered with pine branches.
The morning of the first battle. I, together with my signalers, was ordered to follow the fire platoons with a cart loaded with radio and telephone equipment, and be prepared to establish communications on demand. We entered the forest after infantry. The first killed soldier of our regiment was lying in the clearing. That meant that Finns had advanced to the clearing at night to meet our attacking units. A helmet punctured by a bullet and a gas mask, whose ribbed tube was covered with blood, were lying next to the dead soldier. The first corpse, it had started.
We were moving along the forest road toward yesterday's pillbox. Yells of "Hurrah!" already sounded there, explosions and machine guns could be heard. The first wounded appeared, with fresh bandages, moaning. According to the field manual, the evacuation of the wounded must have been conducted along a road different from that taken by the approaching fresh reinforcements, so as not to wear down their fighting spirit. But who thinks of such things during combat? Mortar shells were flying toward us here and there, and their explosions raised fountains of earth and snow. I was walking to the left of the cart, sinking in the snow. Suddenly, something made me cross to the right side, although the road was worse there. I barely made several steps when a squealing mortar shell hit the spot to the left of the cart, where I had just been walking. It buried itself deep in the snow but didn't explode. Had I not crossed to the other side of the cart, I would've been killed. But even the other side would not have saved me had the shell exploded. Luckily, not all Finnish shells exploded, which was fortunate. Later, I found out that some shells had been given to the Finns by the western allies from their old stockpiles: "God, accept what doesn't suit us."
What made me leave the spot where the shell hit a minute later? Apparently, it was instinct, the one that makes an animal leave places where a hunter's bullet might find it. Let's think of it that way.
The infantry was assaulting the pillbox from the front, taking huge casualties. But it could've been bypassed and taken from the rear, where it didn't have any embrasures with artillery and machine guns. But you couldn't criticize the superiors. They were infallible like Caesar's wife. In the end, we managed to capture the pillbox. A flame-thrower tank arrived and directed its fountains of fire into the embrasures (Most probably it was flamethrowing T-26 - Valera Potapov). The Finns ran away. Their retreat was covered by a small machine gunner, who pulled his machine gun to the top of the pillbox, and perished heroically while returning fire. When our infantry moved on in pursuit of the enemy, I ran to look at the captured pillbox. And almost paid for my curiosity. When the pillbox fell, the neighboring pillboxes, still in Finnish hands, opened artillery fire on it. Several shells exploded, which fortunately did not cause any harm. Thick walls of reinforced concrete were covered by armor plates with powerful shock absorbing springs. That's why armor piercing shells were not penetrating the walls, but were deflected from them. Corpses of our soldiers were lying in front of the pillbox, some of whom were burned by the fire of the tank's flame-thrower and squashed by its tracks. Because the flame-thrower tank arrived later (And why couldn't it have come earlier?) and ran over the corpses. A hard and horrible sight.
The corpse of the small Finnish machine gunner was lying in front of the entrance to the pillbox, and our soldiers entering the pillbox were kicking it with hatred. The machine gun was also lying there. It was an old Maxim model. I looked at its plate: "Imperial Tula Factory. 1915." Such are the twists of fate. Russian arms against Russians.
Flamethrowing T-26 in action.
Some of the internal furnishings of the pillbox had been burned by the flame-thrower. I saw a large copper coin on the table, probably a good luck charm of one of the pillbox's defenders. I grabbed it greedily. It was an old Swedish coin with three crowns. After leaving the pillbox, I ran into our battery commander: "Look," - I practically yelled, - "what a find! This is an old Swedish coin, probably XVII century, possibly King Vaaza's." The battery commander took the coin from me, looked at it, and suddenly swung his arm and threw it far into a snow drift. "You are not allowed to have foreign currency," - he lectured and walked on pompously. I was outraged. More than forty years have passed since then, many events happened, but I'm still mad at the moron battery commander, and I'm endlessly sorry for this coin, which could've made a valuable addition to my numismatic collection and would've been such a memorable souvenir.
During that first day, besides the infantry assaulting the pillbox, many other people who ran forward to "look at Finns" suffered. Our battery's artillery technician, who had absolutely no business in front, perished in this way. When they were carrying him, heavily wounded, past us, he screamed to the battery commander that he was freezing. Indeed, the frost was such that not the wound itself was terrible, but that you would be undressed to bandage the wound out in the cold. The artillery technician died in the medical battalion the next day. Several men of our battery were also hit when they were trying to roll the gun forward to fire over open sights.
They said that before the first battle some commissar talked to the soldiers who were supposed to assault the pillbox and called them to feats of heroism. When the time to advance came, the commissar started saying good-bye, but the soldiers said: "Let's go with us, comrade commissar." I saw the corpse of this commissar. He laid face down together with the soldiers' corpses and differed from them only by the gold buttons on his greatcoat's half-belt.
That day, after the battle, only the infantry advanced after the retreating Finns, but our battery remained there for the moment. For the first time we had to spend the night under open sky in the frost, sitting near fires because our dug-outs were filled with wounded. That meant that the medical battalion was also full. It's bad to sleep while sitting in the frost by a fire. You get burned on the front, but the back freezes. When dozing off you lean forward and your clothes catch fire. Damn war.
We began advancing with combat. When retreating, Finns painfully snapped at us, burned all buildings, set mines everywhere. During a hasty retreat they even burned down barns with cattle inside. They killed dogs that didn't want to leave their burning houses. They set mines to the side of trails they used to retreat. But when the trails turned into roads for trucks and tanks, explosions began. Light ski detachments with mortars, which they transported in small sledges, were opposing us. They also used these sledges to carry away their killed and wounded. They used forest obstructions, any natural obstacles like granite protrusions, which were plentiful there. They opened automatic fire from cover and inflicted heavy casualties on our forward detachments. But when we brought up artillery and fired over open sights, they changed their position, appeared on our flanks, and everything began anew. Then they suddenly disappeared to meet us on the same road at the next obstacle.
The enemy retreated, leaving not only mines, but also colored leaflets for us, which sharply contrasted with snow. They were very naive, intended for morons. Some threatened that the world powers would soon move against us, others persuaded to abandon arms and return home to families, which were missing us very much, etc. Apparently, those were composed by the White emigrants who believed that our soldiers had remained on the level of the pre-revolutionary village.
Combat was conducted primarily during the day. Everything grew still toward the night, and signalers' work began. Under the cover of darkness, we had to roll up old wires, provide communications to the new artillery positions by connecting them to observation posts, connect to the regiment HQ and the artillery chief. Everything had to be ready by morning. The night was sleepless during such work, and combat began in the morning, so how could you sleep when the communications got interrupted here and there? Of course, there happened such nights when you could sleep, sitting by a fire or (really nice) in the ashes of a burned house. There, the earth heated by the fire would keep warmth for about two days, but not longer.
We mainly used telephone communications. Radio was unreliable. Our radio sets (6PK) were cumbersome, with little power, transmitting to short distances, often jammed by various interference. Additionally, all transmissions had to be encrypted, which hindered flexibility of their usage.
Another problem awaited us. Our telephone wire started to wear out quickly, break, and get damaged. Less and less of it remained. The regiment's communications chief needed wire himself and couldn't help us. There was so little wire left, that in some sectors guns, due to its lack, had to be rolled out of cover to fire over open sights, under the fire of Finnish soldiers with SMGs, and our men were getting killed to no purpose. We had to mostly lay one line: battery commander's command post to the firing position. There became less work for signalers. But the battery commander quickly found something to keep me busy. The battery took heavy casualties by that time. Both fire platoons had to be merged into one because only two out of four guns remained operational. The others were mangled. Our strength was also halved. The merged fire platoon was commanded by Lieutenant Kapshuk, a young Ukrainian and a regular officer. One night I was woken up by the duty telephone operator: the battery commander was calling me. I picked up the phone. "Do you know that Kapshuk's been killed?" "Not yet." "Take command of the fire platoons, they're to be ready for combat by morning. Your deputy platoon commander can manage with the communications." In the morning of the next day I was already in the artillery position commanding the fire. The battery commander was correcting the fire from his observation post by phone. While commanding, I stood behind the guns, in the spot where Kapshuk had stood several hours ago and had been killed. And the poor Kapshuk, yesterday still ruddy and merry, laid nearby, wrapped in blood covered ground sheet, and waited to be put into a sled and driven to the medical battalion, where they blew up the frozen Finnish soil with TNT and buried corpses in those holes. Everything was simple to the extreme, and unavoidable like fate...
The 76.2 mm Regimental Cannon Model 1927
Soldiers of the fire platoons were gloomy, mechanically obeyed my orders, and tried not to look in the direction where the corpse of their late commander laid. Getting ahead of myself, it must be mentioned that my "promotion" did not end there. We took such casualties among soldiers and officers, that toward the end of the battles I was appointed deputy battery commander, in case of the commander was incapacitated. Fortunately, that did not happen. It was hard to knock out our oaklike battery commander.
During the war I got a letter from mother at home. She wrote that a summons for me from the military commissariat had been received with an order to come "with personal belongings." Mother went to the commissariat with the summons and explained that her son had been mobilized half a year ago. They took the summons and said that it had been a mistake. But in several days they came at night to search our apartment, and having dragged my old mother from her bed, started asking where her son was. At the same time others were unceremoniously looking under the bed, into the closet, the bathroom. Mother became indignant: "It is I who should ask you where my son is! You mobilized him this autumn. He honestly fights at the front and doesn't walk around at night to look under beds." The visitors saw my photograph in military uniform and letters with postmarks of the acting army field post office on the cupboard. The night guests retreated abashedly and, of course, forgot to apologize. Such was the state of affairs in our Bauman Military Commissariat of the City of Moscow.
One morning I left the battery and went to the forward positions, where the battery commander's observation post was located. The road went through forest and was deserted at that hour. I met some soldier. I didn't know who he was, since we had been ordered to take off our insignia. When closed on each other, I asked him familiarly: "So, how are things there, quiet?" He made a scornful face and asked: "What are you, afraid?" I blew up and also replied with a question: "I don't know who's more afraid: someone who walks to the frontline, or someone who rushes to get away from there." I heard obscene cursing in reply. The stranger introduced himself.
I also had conflicts with our battery commander. Once, when I was at the battery which had been deployed in the woods, he called me on the phone and told be to come to a clearing. Ahead of us, in a clear spot, there was a hill which our infantry was assaulting. "Lay wire to that hill," - the battery commander said. - "Go there yourself and command the firing from there." "But the Finns are still there," - I replied, looking through the field glass. - "When we capture that hill, I'll go there with a telephone operator and lay the wire." "Go now", - the battery commander said harshly, and his hand suddenly fell to the unbuttoned holster of his handgun. This made me indignant. He threatened me when the forest around us was already filled with singing of bullets and the squeal of mortar shells. "Comrade senior lieutenant," - I said - "I repeat that I'll obey your order as soon as the infantry takes that hill. As to you handgun, I have exactly the same one. If you can't wait," - I continued - "let's go there together. Our handguns will come in handy there." Somehow, the battery commander didn't like my proposal, and he fell silent. "Allow me to first tell the battery to advance to this clearing, otherwise we will not be able to secure an arc of fire." "Do it," - the battery commander said, apparently, having cooled off and realized that he had gone too far, and walked away pompously.
The enemy had almost no air force, or it wasn't active in our sector of the front. Only once have I seen how our positions were attacked by several Finnish aircraft like our U-2, which dropped bundles of some grenades. They had black crosses on blue background painted on their wings. But somehow we didn't see our air force either.
"Cuckoos" - snipers in the trees - were bothering us a lot. During retreats, the Finns would put them in the trees with a submachine gun and a large quantity of ammo. Some of them shot and then ran away on skis, which they had left under the tree. Others shot until the end, until they were themselves knocked from the tree, and finished on the ground with hatred. Sometimes four "cuckoos" would deploy as if at the vertices of a forest square, and then anyone who entered that square was unavoidably killed. It was hard to knock them off, since they concentrated the fire of four submachine guns on one target in case of such attempts. They changed their position during the night, moving on to the next "square". Finns took the boots away from some snipers before putting them in the trees, so they wouldn't run away, and replaced their boots with a blanket. There was a case in our regiment when soldiers, having seen a "cuckoo" sitting in a tree, fired at her. She immediately threw down the gun and the blanket off her feet. The "cuckoo" turned out to be a young red-haired girl, white as death. They pitied her, and when they gave her some burned valenki, and she realized that she wouldn't be killed, she wept. Hearts melted and she was sent, untouched, to the rear under guard.
The mention of female cuckoos and a pillbox with armored plates installed on springs so that shells would bounce off it is very interesting. This shows that even educated people in those times believed and continue to believe in those myths. As to the pillbox in the area where this officer fought - there wasn't a single million pillbox there, all pillboxes had 1-2 machine guns, were built in 1930s, and were of high quality. The mention of flame-thrower tanks is indicative because flame-thrower tanks were used intensively during the assault on those two strongpoints - Salmenkaita and Muolaa. There is a pillbox among the fortifications of Muolaa, which I visited, whose entire garrison was completely burned by the flame-thrower tanks. Bair Irincheev
Generally, they fed us well during combat. Field kitchens with soup, kasha arrived to the frontline, and filled anyone who approached. The cooks hastened to give out the food and leave the way they came from under mortar fire. They were not allowed back with any food remaining. They said that one cook had been shot on the spot because he emptied the tank of his kitchen into the snow in order to get away from the front line as soon as possible. Of course, there were days when we melted tasteless snow for tea, warmed the frozen ice-covered bread in the smoke of a fire, and boiled wheat concentrate in mess tins.
Our regiment drove a deep narrow wedge into enemy positions. Uncaptured pillboxes remained to the right and left of us, and we often got into cross fire. Our flanks were weakly guarded, we only had medium machine guns deployed in some places. One night, when I was sleeping with my soldiers on straw placed over snow, a machine gun started firing nearby. I jumped up and ran to the machine gunner. It was dark. I asked why he was shooting. The soldier was silent at first, then he muttered: "If you don't shoot, they'll come here as well."
During a severe frost, we officers were given sheepskin jackets. But soon they had to be taken off. Finnish snipers started to knock off officers. Not only snipers, but Finnish skiers as well, having dressed themselves into Soviet uniform, went into our positions, stabbed our officers, and got away. That's why we were ordered to take off not only the sheepskin jackets, but also the insignia from our tabs, the red "angles" from the sleeves, and wear the belts under the greatcoat.Once I was ordered to take a telephone operator and, having laid a wire to the command post of an infantry element, be there myself, calling the battery's fire as necessary. The command post was located in a low dug-out whose floor was covered with straw. Everyone sat right on the floor. Soon, the battery commander called me on the infantry phone. Although I was dressed as a simple soldier, the infantry telephone operator turned to me: "Comrade lieutenant, it's for you." "Why do you think I'm a lieutenant?" -- "I see that you're a lieutenant, you talk differently." It turned out according to the proverb "You can see a priest even in rags."
There was a case in a neighboring unit when a Finn, dressed in Soviet uniform, came on skis to a field kitchen. Cook said that he didn't know him and could only feed him if the commissar allowed it. "And where's commissar?" - asked the Finn. The cook pointed out the commissar, who was wearing a soldier's greatcoat. The Finn approached the commissar, stabbed him, and ran away.
There were many cases of atrocities, when Finns used knives to kill our wounded, who hadn't been removed from the field yet. I saw myself how several bodies of our soldiers lied in a clearing that couldn't be approached because of shooting "cuckoos". And when one of them made an attempt to get up, shots were fired at him from the trees in the forest. One wounded soldier told of how when he was lying wounded in the snow after a battle, a Finn skied over to him and said in Russian: "Lying there, Ivan? Well, go ahead." It's good that he didn't finish him off, because there were many such cases.
The casualties in our battery were significant. I remember one of my signalers, a young lad, who had just graduated from school. He drew well, was undoubtedly talented, and dreamed of going to the Arts Academy. I often talked to him, looked at his drawings, helped him with advice. I was endlessly sorry when he died in the medical battalion after being wounded. The infantry losses were more significant. There were many tragedies. They told of one young lieutenant who had been wounded in the face, losing both eyes. They didn't have time to take his gun away, and he shot himself right there in the trench, as soon as he realized that he had been made blind.
One night I walked through the forest checking the phone wire laid previously. I crossed a small clearing to enter the forest again. The forward positions were somewhere nearby. The moon shone brightly in my face, blinding my eyes, snow sparkled. Having entered the forest again, I immediately ran into a man in a white coverall, so unexpectedly and close that I threw my arm forward and pushed this man in the chest with my hand. I felt how my heart stopped from fright. The sudden obscene cursing that cut into my ears sounded like divine music: "Ours, Russian." It was our scout, who, seeing me crossing the clearing, decided to wait in the frost. The enemy wouldn't fire mortars at one person, but they could do so at two.
There was another case. After occupying a new command post, the battery commander called me on the phone and told me leave the battery and come to him. He went there during the night, behind the infantry. But during the day the situation had changed. The road was crossed by a frozen river in one place, and that crossing was being shot at by a Finnish sniper. He set himself up on a rocky islet in the middle of the river and fired his submachine gun at anyone who tried to cross on the ice. There was no possibility of covertly sneaking up on the sniper, he had an almost all-round field of fire. Huge boulders protected him from bullets. Many soldiers and officers who needed to cross the river assembled in the forest on both sides. From time to time someone would decide to run to the other side under the hail of bullets, and it worked. But there were cases when the wounded fell on ice. They would crawl to the opposite bank. The only protection for the runners was provided by a burned out Soviet tank in the middle of the river. Of course, if there was a mortar available, we could've quickly shut up that rogue. But there was no mortar, and no one cared about that.
I also had to cross. The sniper fired double shots with pauses. I got behind a tree next to the river and waited. After the shots had been fired, I ran to the tank. As soon as I reached it, bullets started knocking on its armor. Having caught my breath, I started waiting for the next burst, and when it ended, ran further. This part of the way was longer, and I barely managed to hide behind the trunk of the first tree of the opposite side. Whew... Several days later, after the Finns had been pushed out, and we were dragging our guns through that cursed place, I went to take a look at the islet. There was a hole dug between and under the huge boulders, covered with pine branches, with an embrasure in the direction of the road. Empty cigarette packs saying "Sport" on them were lying around, and plenty of spent copper cartridges. The cartridges of the bullets the sniper had shot at me were among them. That's the kind of "sport" it was.
Before the start of fighting they announced to us, officers, that out of three rifle regiments of the division each will fight ten days, taking turns. How we waited for the end of these first ten days. We waited, drowning in our blood, sending our comrades to either the medical battalion or a grave. But, alas, we were not replaced even after ten days. When the division commander found out about large losses in the 306th Regiment, he decided that it wouldn't do to destroy the other two regiments in the same way. After changing his original decision he uttered: "When I wear the 306th out to the end, then we'll think about replacement." Indeed, we were not replaced until the end of the war, and got so worn out that only "hoofs and horns" were left.
This horror, these endless battles, went on for 22 days. We turned into some half-beasts: frostbitten, dirty, lice infested, unshaven, in clothes burned from the fires, unable to say a single phrase without obscene cursing. And constantly in danger of being wounded or killed at that.
And suddenly, if I'm not mistaken, March 11th, in the evening, one of my radio operators ran to me with striking news. He accidentally received a transmission: an armistice had been signed. I ran to our politruk, but he yelled at me, that I believe all kinds of rumors and spread them at that. But such news could not be held secret for long. By the expression on soldiers' faces I understood that it had spread quickly. Some asked me for confirmation, but I replied that I didn't have any official information. The morning of the next day came. It was March 12, 1940. Everyone waited for something. But then the battery commander called from the forward observation post: "Battery, prepare to fire!" I gave the order: "Crews, to your guns, prepare to fire, bring up and wipe the shells!" Soldiers moved reluctantly. Some grumbled: "Here's peace for you." The battery commander gave the target's coordinates, I aimed the guns and: "Fire!", and again "Fire!". Finns started replying with heavy mortars. Shells fell to the left, in front of us, at the crossroads. Some horse cart was hit there, and the poor horse with its belly ripped was getting entangled in its own guts. It was a horrible sight. But the battery commander at his observation post kept demanding: "Fire!" and "Fire!"
The frontline on the Isthmus front March 13th 1940.
Provided by The battles of Winter war
It was around 10 in the morning when a galloping horseman appeared on the road leading from the rear, he was yelling something and waving an envelope. Closer, closer. We recognized a runner from the regimental HQ, a short merry soldier, who'd been in our battery many times. He was yelling: "Stop the fire!" What happened then! Some yelled "Hurrah!", some kissed each other, someone cried, and some simply fell to the snow. I took the envelope with shaking hands. It wasn't sealed. It was an order to the battery commander to stop the fire. The telephone operator called me to the phone. The battery commander was yelling at me: "Why did you stop the fire?" I also yelled that such was the order from the headquarters, they said it was peace. "What peace? You lost your mind there!" But the artillery fire was falling silent along the entire front. And if some late shot was fired, soldiers grew indignant: "What's wrong with them, don't they know?!" After the initial burst of happiness, some sort of a reaction set in. Strength left, everyone fell silent and froze, not knowing what to do next. Witnesses later told of how the news was greeted in the forward positions of the infantry line. Cold, tired soldiers, both Finns and ours, crawled out of their holes on both sides of the "no man's land", looking with suspicion and surprise at their recent enemies. And they couldn't understand. What happened? They were silent, making fires to warm themselves. Some Finn got on top of a huge boulder and yelled to our soldiers: "Russian, Russian, you were shooting at me, I was sitting here under this rock!" Another Finn yelled through the "no man's land": "Don't go right, we set mines there."
And so, peace. We were pulled back a little and ordered to build dug-outs. We started putting ourselves in order. They brought in a field bathhouse with a delousing chamber. It was needed. Nothing to hide here, lice were devouring us. We washed in three consecutively set up tents. We took off our uniforms and gave them to be roasted before entering the first tent. The snow floor in the tents was covered with evergreen branches. We took off our dirty underwear in the first tent, in the second, a network of pipes poured hot, almost boiling, water on us, then we ran to the third tent where we received clean underwear, which we put on our wet bodies because there was nothing to dry ourselves with. And then we waited, well stewed, in just our underwear, until our uniforms were finished being roasted. And all that in the cold, since it was almost as cold inside the tents as outside. I still don't understand how we managed not to get a cold or pneumonia. But we were happy to have even such a bath.
About two weeks after the end of the fighting, after we had rested a little, got ourselves and our weapons in order, we were ordered to march back. The regiment formed a marching column. And only then we could see for ourselves the casualties that the regiment had suffered. The regiment came here at full wartime strength. Infantry consisted of three battalions of 700 bayonets each. Now, there wasn't enough infantry to form a single battalion. Companies were commanded by sergeants. We, battery men, also took heavy casualties. Out of nine officers of our battery only four remained. Two were killed and three wounded. Even I, a reservist, had to be appointed deputy battery commander in case he was incapacitated. I don't remember any more how many privates and NCOs the battery lost. We marched here in several columns, so huge was the regiment. Now the entire regiment formed a single column, and we artillery men, walking in the end of the column, could see and hear the band playing marching tunes in the lead of the column. We marched past the place where the medical battalion had been deployed and the cemetery was located. The medical battalion had already packed up and left, but the cemetery remained.
If we didn't see corpses, these horrible frozen wax mannequins, then death would not have been so terrible. In civilian life, death of a sick person does not come as a surprise. But it was absurd to see the arrival of death to a young healthy man, who suddenly drooped in your arms like a sack, his face became yellow, corners of his mouth and eyelids fell. And you could see the entire horrible evolution, the ease of transition from one state to the other, to a sad hillock made of frozen lumps of the cursed Finnish soil.
It's hard to express in words what we felt while walking past this cemetery. Not too long ago these men, our comrades, young and healthy, were among us and were the same as us. Even when they were put here, and any one of us could be put next to them any minute, we didn't feel alienated from them. And now we were leaving them forever, and they forever remained to lie here. And an abyss formed between us and them, and we couldn't understand with our minds how and why it all happened.
Of course, we realized that this war was necessary. We had to make Leningrad safe, separate it from the dangerous border by a zone of Soviet land. We also knew that Finns refused the offer of the Soviet government to exchange this territory for any other along the border. We couldn't understand a different thing - the method in which the war was conducted. Couldn't we just bomb the Finnish pillboxes from the air, block them, bypass, and leave them in the rear?! Like the Germans did with the Maginot Line? Couldn't we drop airborne troops into the Finnish rear, use tanks more widely? We saw a lot of this equipment sitting in sidings at Bologoye. No, they chose to throw people chest first into machine gun and artillery fire of pillboxes, in bright sunny days with clear view. And put thousands of young men into graves. Why? Or maybe they thought the same way as that "strategist" who led us to a Finnish pillbox before battle, thinking that it was a training box of sand with tin soldiers before him, and started explaining how to fight. All that was incomprehensible and vexing.
After the peace treaty had been signed, newspapers reported that our losses in killed and wounded were somewhere around fifty thousand. How many tragedies hid behind these numbers! These losses could've been significantly smaller!
The regiments of our division that had been deployed behind us in reserve during battles, were turned back first and were first to parade through Leningrad like heroes. They got the celebratory reception, greetings, and gifts collected by Leningradians. And when our 306th regiment, or, rather, its remains, entered the city, a real fighting unit which bore all the hardships of war on its shoulders, the celebration was already over, and we didn't receive any gifts. That's how it happens in life.
Later we found out that our regiment was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for the breakthrough of the Mannerheim Line. Several officers of our regiment's rifle units also received orders. Awards were scarce in those days. Our artillery and mortar men didn't receive anything, although the award lists for us were supposedly put together. But to have survived with your head intact was also not a small award.
When we were leaving Leningrad and were loading at a train station, we saw another sad picture. Several freight cars, whose windows had been barred with barbed wire, stood separately on a different track. Guards with bayonets attached to their rifles did not let anyone approach those cars. A railroad worker whispered to me that those were from Finland, our servicemen who had been taken prisoner. Until that time we thought that those who went through war were divided into three categories: some, who were lucky, were riding away; others, frostbitten and maimed, were put into hospitals; and the third category was buried in frozen Finnish soil. But it turned out that there was also a fourth category of unfortunate people, those who waited investigation and trial in that mobile cold wooden prison. Who decides the fate of people in war and sorts them into categories with an unpitying hand? And how easy was the transition from one category to another. Which was determined and which accidental?
One of the peculiarities of this war was the fact that we fought because we were ordered. This was different from the following Patriotic War, when we hated the enemy that attacked our native land. Here they simply told us: "Forward march!" - without even an explanation of where we were going. We simply did our soldier's duty during the Finnish war, and understood the sense and the necessity of the fight later. We didn't feel hate toward Finns initially, and only later, seeing separate cases of atrocities from the enemy, our soldiers started to feel anger toward them. For example, they killed "cuckoos", who caused us a lot of harm, with frenzy. But in general, a Russian, Soviet soldier is a good natured man, and you have to put a lot of effort into angering him.
My tale of the Polish-Finnish epic is coming to an end. I was demobilized in the autumn of 1945, after the Patriotic war also ended. Some lively girl was filling out my military ticket in the Bauman District Military Commissariat. She entered all my misadventures in military service there. "Please put down that I also participated in the war with White Finns." "We don't write the Finnish war," - the girl said and, bending over the desk, yelled to her neighbor: "Svetka, are you going to lunch?" That was the epilogue. Really, why would you "write the Finnish war", when the situation had changed, and you had to forget about that war as soon as possible, pretending that it couldn't even happen with such nice neighbors like Finns.
These memoirs were written by the author mostly when he was in the hospital with pneumonia, in October of 1981. They helped him to fill tedious evenings and sleepless nights of gloomy hospital existence. In the following years, the author simply corrected, extended, and edited these notes.