The war began for me in December of 1942 when I enlisted as a cadet in the 281st Independent Anti-Tank Battalion. By November of 1943, 800 cadets and I were sent to the 119th Division, which after a brutal battle was reinforced in Tula with personnel and equipment. There I was assigned to the 421st Rifle Regiment in a battery with 76mm guns.
I received my baptism of fire at Nevel in Pskov. We shot our artillery directly from our shelters at the approaching targets, time and time again, precisely and persistently.
Our division broke through the enemy's defensive lines and advanced 20-30 kilometers into their rear. We then joined up with the guerilla partisans that were trapped back there and inflicted massive destruction upon the Hitlerite rear units.
The offensive continued. There was fierce fighting and many of my comrades perished. Sergeant Timofeev, the gun layer, was killed, and the commander had me take his place at the gun sight.
In one fierce night battle we liberated Dretun and other settlements. We were even able to kick the enemy out of a part of Idritsa Station. The Germans did not want to lose their food and clothes stores, ammunition depots, or their battery of anti-aircraft cannons. Therefore, in the early morning they began to counter-attack us with the support of aircraft and an armored train.
The Regiment Commander, Marakhovskii, ordered us to open fire on the armored train. We immobilized the enemy armored train, and then proceeded to suppress all of its gun points. We then transformed the terrible armored monster into a mass of scrap metal! By the second half of the day our reinforcements arrived - the 365th Rifle Regiment. With a coordinated attack we finally threw the Fascists completely out of Idritsa Station.
The offensive continued. Throughout the many combat operations, it was necessary for us to complete many 50-60 kilometer foot marches in a 24-hour period, and then join battle from the march. Even the infantrymen were exhausted to the limit. However, for us artillerymen, it was necessary to roll, carry, and drag our not-so-light guns by hand too, but nobody grumbled or whined. Among us soldiers were many women, who also courageously transcended all the adversity as well.
During one of our marches along an opening though a swampy forest we unexpectedly came under heavy enemy mortar fire. One of the shells blew up on the carriage of our gun. Instantly the commander, Sharipov, and the ammunition bearer, Maev, were killed. The loader Andrianov's lower jaw was shattered, and I received a fragment wound on my forehead. The medics arrived in time and skillfully pulled out the shrapnel and bandaged me. That was a bit painful and frustrating, but I was sincerely pleased that I remained with the unit, and I was ready to fight.
In the Vitebsk sector we were faced with severely trying circumstances. The fight was serious. The enemy had the additional help of the weather. There was constant sleet and the wind blew through the wet padded jackets all the way to the bone. Through these three days of battle - both in the daytime and the night - we fired on the enemy at the hill designated on the maps as number 173.1. People were excessively exhausted, but they steadfastly repulsed enemy attacks. Towards the end of the third day, the Germans had started attacking us with tanks. This attack could've ended badly for us, but we inflicted a devastating hit upon the foremost tank and it flared up like a flaming torch. The other tanks, after seeing this, then turned back and saved themselves behind a hill.
In the summer of 1944, I once again experienced the desperate hell of war. The temperature was up to 30C. To attack, it was necessary for us to go through the woods where Germans had set up obstructions, which they set on fire as we approached. The flames were as if in a blast-furnace. The caustic smoke caused pain that "ate away" at my eyes…And in this nightmare, in addition to being under enemy bombardment, I - the gun layer - had to aim precisely!
We liberated Zelenyi Gorodok, but in the attack we lost the regiment commander, Colonel Marakhovskii. It was as if the sad news gave us additional strength, and the regiment burst forward. The regiment was then put under the command of Colonel Iakovlev, who skillfully led us forward towards the Baltic Sea.
In one of our attacks the regiment ran into an almost insurmountable obstacle: enemy fire coming from an emplacement camouflaged as a flowerbed was mowing down the lines of our infantrymen. The terrain was such that you couldn't sneak up to the machine gun emplacement without being seen. Finally our scouts managed to precisely establish the coordinates of that damned target. At once several gun crews aimed their guns at the fake flowerbed.
Straight away past Zelenyi Gorodok in a forest tract was a position defended by a Hitlerite battery of 75mm guns. The Germans had ranged the whole sector well and set up a reliable fire blockade on the road to Polotsk. They also knocked out our tank with direct fire, destroyed a 45mm gun with its crew, and inflicted significant losses upon our infantry. Our gun crew was then ordered to destroy this enemy battery.
A duel between one gun and an entire battery is serious business! Here, one's courage is not enough because the forces are obviously unequal. If you miscalculated even a little, you'd be blown to pieces! We examined the area, considered different options. Nothing would work for us!
And then I had an epiphany: we could load the gun in the shelter and take two boxes of shells with us right on the carriage, harness the horses and gallop directly out in the open in front of the German battery; immediately deploy the gun and open fire, alternating HE and fragmentation rounds. Delirium?! Suicide?! Whatever it was, in this dashing attack I succeeded: our shells hit the target precisely and the German battery was put out of commission. My entire gun crew participated in this fearless operation - my friends Kapitonov, Babich, and Voropaev.
The way to Polotsk was now open. The regiment went on fighting through the Baltics liberating Shiauliai, Dvinsk, Daugavpils, and Riga. In one of the unexpected fights, near a village called Vekshniai, our gun crews knocked out a German Panther tank. A little later, at dawn, I observed many big tents behind the wooden glade. We instantly turned the gun and opened fire with canister and fragmentation rounds. A drawn out battle commenced. Together with the infantry we broke the enemy and took much of the Hitlerites' armament. Among the trophies we discovered what appeared to be a newly designed Skoda sub-machine gun with a box magazine, which generated great interest from the command.
I was not always accompanied by such gallant situations along the front roads. At the end of 1944, my friend Andrei Babich was fatally wounded by mortar shrapnel at his post. We buried him on an nameless hill in an unfamiliar wood. It is a bitter and hard thing to say goodbye to loyal comrades. Even up until the end of the war I could not get used to the inevitable loses of my comrades-in-arms.
February of 1945 nearly brought an end to my combat biography. During a reconnaissance in force, the shrapnel of a projectile hit me in the face. Military doctors preformed a miracle and I remained alive, but to this day I still carry a piece of the metal in my nasal cavity.
In March of 1945 I was discharged from the hospital and sent to the 221st Rifle Division, to its 191st Regiment, once again as the gun layer of a 76mm cannon. In the ranks of this unit I had to go through hell once again. Here's how it happened. By the will of fate I found myself engaged in single combat with the artillery of the enemy located on the well organized positions on the other edge of the woods. Never-ending fountains from the explosions of enemy artillery and mortar shells caused earth to rise in a cloud around my gun. I did not notice a thing though, and with full detachment and persistence I sent shell after shell at the Fascists' positions. I came to my sense only when I couldn't hear return fire from the enemy. The Hitlerite battery had fallen silent! Here the infantry confidently rose into attack and knocked the Fascists completely out of the woods.
For this unequal fight I was awarded The Order of Glory, Third Class, adding to my collection that also included two Orders of the Red Star, a Medal of Valor, and the medal "For the Defense of Moscow."
During an offensive at Koenigsberg on April 3, 1945, I was wounded once again. On the last day of the war, Victory Day, I was in Riga Hospital #1175.
I only returned home in November 1945.
|Translated by:||Shannon Dubberly|