I was born in April 1919 in Vologda Oblast'. The family had many children. In 1936, after completing a secondary school (7 grades), I was admitted to the local accounting courses (an educational institution in a particular field of study) and joined the Komsomol organization. After finishing the courses I was directed to the city of Arkhangel’sk. Somehow the money for the fare was collected. Mom bought me riding breeches and a used (a bit ragged} military overcoat. I started independent life with only two rubles and fifty kopecks in my pocket.
After my arrival to Arkhangel’sk I couldn’t grasp how to support myself. I spent nights in the Collective Farmer’s House for one ruble per night. I worked in the workmen’s cooperative association “Collector of Recyclable Materials.” Soon they covered my expenses, so I could support myself somehow. I slept on my desk: I covered it with my overcoat and used my winter cap as a pillow. I existed in such conditions for two and a half years.
My two duties in the office were personnel matters and the cultural-educational work in the association. Once I nearly had been jailed. I got together our workers and neighboring residents for an antireligious lecture. As I had explained that the substance is primary and the idea is secondary, a man, probably a priest, rose his hand and stated: “This boy doesn’t understand anything. First of all is idea i. e., the God, and then the substance appeared. Next day I was summoned to the local NKVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) office: “You should be arrested for organizing such an assemblage. However, while taking into account that you are just 17 years old, we wouldn’t arrest you.
In November 1939 I was called up and dispatched to the city of Ternopol’, Western Ukraine, and in May 1940 they sent me to the city of L’vov as a cadet of military courses for a junior commanders.
These days you could encounter German civilians walking in the streets. It was said that they came to see the graves of their relatives who were buried here during WW-1. Nevertheless, when these visitors were approaching close to a column of cadets that marched to the training field, we heard a command “Under cover from view! Double quick!” to conceal our armament and our strength.
After completing the courses I was directed to the city of Dubno, Rovno Oblast’, and there I was appointed a squad commander of the NKVD Operative Regiment. We guarded the most important objects. There were active bandits somewhere, and we, as an
operative NKVD regiment, had been directed to detain criminals. There was a special jail for those near Dubno. So, I got to know the smell of powder yet before the war.
I was a propagandist in my detachment, and I still remember some newspaper publications of that time, especially about possible German attack. Another article explained that America tried to cause a clash between Germany and the USSR.
On 21 June 1941 I was appointed commander of the mentioned jail guard. Now somewhere, especially in Western Ukraine, you can hear that all of these convicts were real fighters for an independent Ukraine, and all of the Red Army men who served there, were occupiers. At the prewar time we didn’t feel particularly anything like that.
Dubno was one of a few Soviet cities that had been bombarded first. The main target of the German bombardment was the airdrome situated between Dubno and Rovno.
In the middle of the night a sentry of the observation post gave the alarm signal. I ran out and saw a lot of German aircraft in the sky. They fired at us actively but we suffered no casualties. I phoned my platoon commander:
- The war started!
- “You don’t say! Did you forget Stalin’s order? You’ll be arrested right away.” (It was forbidden to use the word “war” at that time).
In some 15 minutes the platoon commander called me back:
- “I reported to the garrison commander, the major general. He said: ‘It could not be.’”
Unbelievably: at 4:00 a.m. the military officials didn’t know that a war started!
I received an order to be in the major general’s office at 8:00 p.m. My hands began trembling because I never saw such high commanders.
At 6 a.m. it was announced that the war began, then was a long break in radio contact. Only at 11 a.m. the radio began to speak again. We heard a German broadcast appeal: “Ukrainians! We began the war against the Soviet troops. They are occupiers. We will drive them out and you will became a free people.”
Our radio was silent until 11 a.m. At noon, it became known that a German landing group wearing Read Army and Soviet militia uniforms appeared in the neiborhood. We were ordered to take our rifles and to engage the group. That was the first order of the day. Some of the Germans gave themselves up with no resistance. They stated that they were communists. Thus, after that we had to guard both the convicts and the German prisoners.
On 25 June our platoon was ordered to deliver all of the guarded to the city of Romny, Sumy Oblast’. I remember there were sunny days during our journey.
A.D. – Did German aircraft attack you? What did you see on roads at that time?
A. S. – Many times German pursuit planes fired at us. Our platoon suffered several losses as we went to Romny. After handing over all of the convicts and the prisoners to the Romny two-storied jail, we went back to the location of our regimental HQ (it was in the city of L’vov when we left Dubno). We started our journey back. Chaos reigned on roads – a sign of anguished retreat. A lot of civilians, on foot or in wagons, as well as different damaged military equipment were moving eastward.
There was no food and no kitchen for us. Somewhere on a few collective farmers’ gardens we managed to secretly dig out a beet or something else – that was our main food along that way. (In the city of Vinnitsa we managed to change our menu: during German bombardment a freight train was damaged, and a lot of cans of condensed milk were scattered all over the railroad station. Some of us, however, suffered from diarrhea next day). Short of meeting some detachments of our regiment, we had occasional skirmishes with German patrols.
There were endless rearguard actions after we reunited with our 233rd NKVD Regiment. Some of our men were in a panic. As a secretary of the company’s Komsomol organization I tried to encourage those soldiers.
The enemy had been stopped not far from the familiar city of Romny. Our company passed the city and soon we found ourselves in the city of Sumy where a school building was chosen for our night’s lodging.
In the middle of the night a shout “Be up!” awoke everybody. We boarded trucks and arrived in the outskirts of Romny, close to a river. A forest was seen somewhat farther away. Three platoons formed a defense line, the fourth was our reserve. (Our second platoon was a special one. It suffered numerous losses during our retreat. In contrast to other platoons, its reinforcements were recently mobilized inexperienced soldiers).
We managed to dig out only shallow positions for laying down fire as at about 4:00 we saw ten tanks approaching our company. We had just rifles against these tanks, no antitank grenades, no bottles filled with the incendiary mixture, nothing!
As the tanks approached closer, we heard: “You are encircled, give yourselves up!” Our company commander was a senior lieutenant, an ethnic Tatar. He ordered: “To open fire!” When we began firing, three tanks came from the left flank and we heard again a shout of the tank crew: “Give up, you are encircled!” As soon as one of our soldiers rose to his feet in order to run somewhere from his shallow position, their machine gun’s burst shot him down in a moment. We continued to fire. One tank stopped while two others went ahead and began to trample over our first platoon. A loud cry arose. The second platoon’s commander, a tall lieutenant, ordered: “Ge-e-et up! Hands up!” They got up and went toward the tanks, while holding their hands up. Right away everyone felt a kind of uncertainty and confusion. At that moment the commander of our, the third platoon, was going to give us some order but as soon as he lifted his hand a machine gun’s burst killed him.
There we were. The first platoon had been trampled over. Only a few soldiers of the captured second platoon managed to run away and join us. Since I was the company’s Komsomol secretary and a squad commander, I decided that I should be the superior among the remaining group. I rose to my feet and ordered: “Obey my command! Follow me!” I looked round: there was a gully on the left of us and high grass before it. We already knew that German tanks avoid gullies. We slipped down into the gully. I looked myself over there: my knapsack resembled a sieve, nevertheless I remained unhurt. That was a kind of happy fortune. There were Semenov, Smirnov, and Eriushkin beside me. I appointed three patrols and ordered them to go along the riverbank. I led the first patrol. The tanks didn’t follow us, so there was a temporary calm. The fourth platoon joined us, its soldiers were of different ages.
There were quite many military men in the gully. Where were they from?
While patrolling, we saw a hayrick. Our company commander, the Tatar, crawled out from it and questioned me where our company was. I told him: “They follow us.” Then the senior lieutenant asked me to keep silent regarding his case.
As the remains of our company walked in the gully, our regiment was already completely battered. The infantry with only rifles couldn't withstand tanks if it fights in an open flat area. Naturally, tanks are stronger.
The remains of our company crossed the river pretty far from Romny. There was only one boat there, and the heads occupied it. All of the rest had to swim across on their own. As we turned toward Romny, we finally encountered a Red Army rifle regiment and tanks. Nobody was seen up to that time! We (except for one) managed to take some food for the first time that day. The Senior Lieutenant, our company commander asked the regiment commander to feed us. The answer was positive, and all of us one after another moved to their kitchen. As you remember, my mess kit was completely perforated, so I told our soldiers: “Go and eat what they’d give you. Then I would use your mess kit.” I went there after their return. I probably looked like a stranger, thus their commander, a colonel said:
- “This person isn’t our comrade.”
I answered firmly:
- “I’m not yours. However it was an agreement.”
- “Look at him, what a tone of his voice! Shoot him right away as a deserter!”
The senior lieutenant to whom the colonel ordered, said:
- “Let’s check him first. Their company is not far from here. I’ll walk there.”
After the mess had been cleared up, the senior lieutenan invited me to dine together. Unfortunately, at that moment we had to retreat. Thus, I remained hungry all day long.
All of what happened that day took place on 9 September 1941. As a reward for my determined actions I was exempted from my duties during the night. Although I was hungry, my sleep on the hay was wonderful.
Next day when we continued on our way, important news reached us: the remains of our regiment were transferred to the 6th Operative NKVD Motorized Rifle Regiment. Once this regiment was situated not far from L’vov. It was completely smashed in its first battle but the regimental banner wasn’t lost, therefore the regiment was formed anew.
Our new regiment was shifted to the city of Voronezh. We stayed there four months till January 1942. I was elected a remanned company Komsomol secretary.
As a riflemen of a motorized unit we had a special kind of drill: “Board the vehicle!” and “Leap out!”
Then our command declared: “Battles in the Moscow vicinity are in progress at present, and we have to take part in these actions.” And our regiment marched the almost 100 kilometers distance between Voronezh and the city of Oboian’, Kursk Oblast’, by nights. Despite biting frosts we walked wearing just the usual military overcoat, in the black shoes with shoestrings on our feet.
I remember a night halt in a burned village. The fire spared only one house. A lot of people went into it – no place to squat! Our battalion commander got settled on a bed, and I was lucky to find room under the bed.
When the regiment was in about 20 kilometers from Oboian’, all of us became witnesses to an execution of a group of Red Army soldiers and sergeants. Some commander stopped our column: “You have to be present at the execution in order to learn the grave consequences of throwing down one’s weapon.” I saw about 30 fresh-dug holes and a soldier or sergeant by each of them. It turned out that a regiment recently attacked the Germans positions but was hit. Their retreat was a panicky flight. Those who threw their rifles were standing by the holes. Some of them tried to promise that they would brave any future challenge. Nevertheless, all were shot.
In mid January we reached the Oboian' area. There was a big village to the right of the city, and we halted there. Since the departure from Voronezh we didn't eat anything, so it was a pleasure to take pieces of a deep-frozen loaf of bread that we chopped with a hatchet. We also drank with pleasure our 100 grams of vodka. Soon a command to attack was given. Our battalion had to be the first that entered Oboian'. We had neither any artillery support nor any mortars. We went just with our rifles having one light machine gun per squad and one heavy machine gun per battalion.
I was among those who entered the city ahead of the rest. The Red Army Street stretched up to a church. The only house was nearby. A woman ran out into the street shouting, “Ours arrived!” We went toward the church but right away the Germans opened fire at us. Shumilov, a native of Arkhangel’sk Oblast’, was injured. I ordered him to be conveyed to the medical company. I heard a shout and asked Sviridov who was shouting. It turned out that the Germans had rushed to the attack. They set fire to the house where we saw the woman and pushed her and wounded Shumilov into the fire.
I managed to reach the Sumy Street near the church. Only our platoon commander a sergeant major, the company commander, and myself remained alive. A lot of corpses lay on the Red Army and Sumy streets.
The sergeant major said:
- “Do you see a machine gun firing from the church?”
- “I see it but what could be done? Give me a grenade.”
- “Where can I find one? Use your bayonet.”
The company commander heard that discussion and shouted at the sergeant major:
- “Do you see the situation? Do you see how many lie down? You are pushing him to a certain death!”
We ran from there to another yard where I was going to hid myself behind a post. At that moment a robust soldier approached me and asked:
- “Why are you standing here? Are you guarding yourself?”
As soon as I directed my steps toward the house a mortar shell exploded and the soldier’s foot had been torn. I entered the house. An internecine scuffle between a German and our soldier took place in the lobby. I saw that the German was prevailing, and I had no time to reflect on what’s going on. I just pierced the enemy with my bayonet, and he fell down. The rescued soldier couldn’t say a single word – he was so frightened! That was my only occasion to use a bayonet…
Then we were ordered to retreat and made our way along adjoining gardens. We stopped on the city’s outskirts. I had no subordinates anymore. I lost the whole squad. Only shell-shocked Eriushkin escaped. All others were killed.
While walking along the gardens, I saw a machine gunner who slowly dragged not only his heavy machine gun but also carried boxes with cartridge belts. I helped him, and we together managed to deliver the weapon to the new defense line. Soon the Germans started their attacks but the machine gun’s bursts of the fire stopped the enemy. I felt a real joy for assisting the machine gunner.
We went away to Rzhava railroad station. The remains of the regiment were somehow organized and reformed. Although I was just a sergeant, I was appointed a platoon commander. Then we went back to Oboian'. Long ravines lay just short of the city. We went through a ravine. The Germans seeing that our strength wasn’t as great took their positions above both slopes. They initially let us through but shortly after closed our advance and began annihilating us. At that moment I was seriously injured in my back. I knew that a forest was at a distance of about two kilometers to the right from that ravine. I had no choice but to crawl toward the forest. And I crawled and crawled under uninterrupted fire. Moreover, I crawled with my rifle with me, otherwise you could be considered a deserter and shot. I still don’t understand how I could escape. My knapsack and the mess kit were perforated as it happened last summer. Soon I saw – a horse drawn wagon. I shouted, “Stop!” but couldn’t get up because my spine was hurt. They stopped. It turned out that was our medical attendant. He told me that it was the last trip to a hospital – the Germans succeed in their attack.
As we reached some village they carried me in a house and I got a shot of the tetanus vaccine in my back. Than they put me in a truck. We reached a hospital in Bol’shaya Mikhaylovka but soon I was conveyed to Novy Oskol and later to Stary Oskol. The Germans continued advancing and the local situation was very tense.
There weren’t enough places in Novy Oskol for injured soldiers. I was lying beside the exit of the building there. The hospital was short of nurses. It was useless to ask for a bedpan. I suffered from bedsores more than from the wound. The medical staff was obligated to settle patients in their homes. I was offered to move to a doctor’s apartment but I refused.
Later they evacuated us to the city of Tskhaltubo, Georgia. I was there until being discharged from the hospital. I received there the medal “For the Bravery” that I earned in the 1942 winter fights for Oboian’.
In May I was dispatched in the 36th Border Guards Detachment that was situated in the city of Sukhumi. At that time I was still not up to my full strength after the hospital, so they directed me to the submachine gunners courses. I completed it successfully.
Later I was appointed platoon commander’s assistant in a maneuver group. (During the war such groups were formed in all of the border guards detachments. Usually they were dispatched toward places where the enemy managed to break through our defense). It was said at that time that the Germans sitting on the Klukhor Pass are able to see even our Sukhumi. In August 1942 Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beriya arrived. By his order, our group was directed to the Klukhor Pass. It was very hard to make our way through the mountain chain. The horsepaths were narrow and steep. A couple of horses loaded with weapons had fallen into a gorge. Mules came to our help. As we reached the pass, the commander of the maneuver group ordered: “Deliver my dispatch to 290th Operative NKVD Regiment. Be careful: some Chechen gangs and a German group might be active there. Take a compass with you.”
I delivered the dispatch to the commander of that regiment, a Hero of Soviet Union, Vasilii Ivanovich Peskarev, whom I knew since prewar time. This time we met as close friends.
Nothing special happened after I returned from the Klukhor Pass. We had plenty of free time. Political lectures were given regularly, mostly about war and international news. We liked to sing songs from time to time, especially the “Katyusha”. We, the border guards, had even our own version of its words.
In April 1944 our regiment was transferred to the Crimea, and on 13 April we were situated in the city of Simferopol’. By an order of the unit, I was detached to the local NKVD investigating body as an investigator. At once I was given as many as 300 cases. The first one I dealt with was the Peletskii case. During the German occupation Peletskii was the chief of “the Crimea Criminal Police” and actively collaborated with the occupiers. I also had a few business trips in the Ternopol’ Oblast’, Ukraine, and Shauliay district, Lithuania, where some gang formations were smashed.
|Russian text by:||R. Aliev and Isaak Kobylyanskiy|
|English text:||Todd Marvin|