Introduction. Acquaintance in the Regional Public Organization of War Veterans
- Can I have your surname, first name and patronymic, please?
- Fedorovich Stepan Georgievich, Born in 1925.
- Your branch of service and front assignment.
- A submachine gunner, the 2nd Ukrainian Front
- Come on in, my dear fellow, I’ve been waiting for you since morning. Have a seat! Have you found my place easily?
- I strayed a bit.
- Take a seat. What shall we start with?
-To start with? Tell me please about how you became a resident of the Crimea.
- I have been living in the Crimea since 1933. For some reason my father decided to move here from the Far East and took us along, so our entire family lived here until 1947. In 1947, after my father left for Belorussia, everybody else moved away.
Before my departure to the battlefront I had a girlfriend. I dated her. It turned out later that she had become pregnant. I couldn’t just abandon her. After my service I returned here. I crawled on crutches for a year and a half trying to arrange somehow my future …
- What did your father do before the war?
- He was a Communist party official. Before the war he underwent three surgical operations: abdominal surgery, appendicitis and ulcer of stomach. He was left behind in German occupied Feodosiya on Party assignment. He worked as a caretaker of the “White Basin”, distributing the town’s water supply. (“White Basin” – is popular name of the water-tower, a facility of the Feodosiya-Subash water supply system, an example of the industrial architecture of early 20th Century – Note by S. S.). Water was coming from sources in Subash and he distributed it among the consumers. Everything was fine … But one fine day some Gestapo men came and took him to prison. But my father somehow managed to escape from there and was in hiding for a long time, and after the war moved to Belorussia. I had an opportunity to see him before he died. He looked at me and said: “You, my dear son, are a real man!” – “Dad, stop pouring your complements on me”. – “No, you and Boris are men to the hilt, but Anatoly is not.” Anyway, it was a lot of bull. Let’s go on …
I’ll tell you about my two brothers. Both were in the Army: one in the town of Kamenets-Podolsky and the other one in Brest-Litovsk. The former, born in 1919, participated in the Finish war, which he managed to survive. During the Patriotic War he retreated from the Western Ukraine down to Stalingrad. On the 1st of January when the German 6th Army Commander Paulus’s backside was in hot water my brother was severely wounded and he passed away in hospital. He was buried in a communal grave back in Stalingrad … (Let’s commemorate names of every one of them. Fedorovich Boris Georgievich, Junior Sergeant of the 5th Detached Cavalry-Artillery Battalion of the 3rd Guards Cavalry Corp, born in 1919, died of wounds in Mobile Field Hospital # 27 on the 1st of January, 1943. (… a blunt shrapnel wound in the chest, right scapular region, open pneumothorax). Buried: in hamlet of Logovsky under Perekopsky rural council of Rural district of Kletsky).
Anatoly used to tell me about his ordeals on the way between Brest-Litovsk and Moscow. Nobody knows the troubles he’d been through and seen … (Fedorovich Anatoly Georgievich, born in 1921, decorated with the Medal “For Courage”. A rifleman of the 276th Detached Army’s Penal Company Fedorovich A.G. in the battles on the 14th through 16th of October of 1943 for the populated place of Kuzminichy was the first to break into enemy trenches. In hand-to-hand combat he killed two enemy soldiers). He returned home disabled. A couple of years ago he had his leg amputated, but he couldn’t stand it and died.
- In what year were you conscripted?
- In 1944 in Dzhankoy. When our troops captured the city I was immediately “seized”, a PPSH submachine gun was handed to me and having it in my hands I went on and on... I was nineteen years old then. I began fighting Germans in earnest in Balaklava and then fought in the battle to capture Sevastopol. After Sevastopol we were redeployed to Moldavia. In heavy battles around Jassy we shredded to pieces the Kishinev German Army group. Then we cut across the Prut River and entered Romania. After the liberation of Romania we engaged in fierce fighting in Hungary. Having passed across the Danube we stormed through Budapest, Szenna, Debrecen and a handful of others, which I cannot remember now. Having dealt with Hungary we proceeded with clearing out Czechoslovakia. I was wounded there and the war for me was over. As for my combat wounds, I had the following set: one brain concussion wound, three minor injuries and one severe wound.
The 3rd Battalion’s Headquarters Staff
in Hungary in 1944. People on the photo
from left to right: Captain Bazhenov;
Battalion’s Chief of Staff named
Generalov (wearing field jacket);
the Battalion Commander Mikhail
Grigorievich Fedorov (sitting);
Deputy Battalion Commander
Anushavan Oganesovich Kochikyan;
Submachine gunner Stepan
Medical Orderly Vasily Khokhlov;
between Khokhlov and Fedorovich
is the Battalion’s Party Instructor
Alexei Ivanovich Mosin.
- Stepan Georgievich, where did you see the Germans for the first time?
- Who? Me? Oh dear. Where did I see them?! I cannot say that I saw them, but I did flail a lot of them. I didn’t spare any of them at all. None of them! I said to myself: “This is my vengeance for my brother, for all the others, for everything that the Germans had done in the Crimea, for there they had beaten me and tortured my father”.
- What about your first battle near Balaklava was memorable to you?
- We lost about 90 of our guys. All in all, it was so BAD! There was real carnage! We clashed tightly in a mortal combat. We fought hand to hand in the trenches using entrenchment tools, rifle butts, finger nails, etc. I mixed it up with one… burly German. He smashed me under my rib with his rifle butt. The impact was so strong that crunch was heard and my eyes nearly fell out of my head and I stopped breathing. Oh, my goodness, I had my rib fractured then …
I didn’t leave the battlefield! We were young and nimble then. We had perseverance. Beaten and wounded we still rushed around. What a wonder! We wacked them for the long haul! After THAT we were afraid of nothing. Those who survived that combat will hardly ever be scared by anything. I want to tell you that before my coming to the front I had never smoked. But after such carnage you will start doing many other even worse things, let alone smoking and taking alcohol.
- What did people shout when they charged in attack?
- Hah!… A multi-level selection of foul language filled the air over the battlefield.
(About two kilometers to the northeast of Balaklava at the high ground marked as 212.1 there is a cemetery of communal graves of fallen soldiers of the Temryuk’s 227th Red Banner Rifle Division and the Taman’s 242nd Mountain Rifle Division. 482 liberators of Feodosiya rest in peace in communal graves there. Stepan G. Fedorovich fought in the Sevastopol’s 779th Regiment under the 227th Rifle Division. The 227th RD constituting the third fight echelon of the 16th Rifle Corp was engaged in action on the second day of the offensive to complete the breakthrough into the second firing emplacement of the main battle line and to assist the adjacent troops on the right to capture a formidable enemy stronghold at the high ground named Gornyaya – note by S.S.)
- What happened to the German?
- Which German? Ah, that one. He was “calmed down” for good...
Near Sevastopol we were taking prisoner thousands of Germans! Then their time came to pay for all that they had done: POW torturing, barbed wire, crematoria, beatings. Ah, you can’t mention everything. They made a mess of everything here!
What do I remember about the battles in Sevastopol? Our aviation and artillery reduced them heavily. Then they gained firsthand experience of being hacked by aviation. In the old days they used to give our men a hard time. They would chase in their planes every individual soldier. Their accursed “Stukas” (Ju-87 dive bombers)! They would fall on our men one after another. Our men couldn’t raise their heads. After one plane left, another one would come to take over …
- Can you describe the battles in Sevastopol?
- I think, we were breaking our way through towards Sevastopol near the place named Inkerman. I might be wrong, more than 60 years have already passed. If you ask me what I ate yesterday, I won’t remember! It’s been a long while …
By the way, are you hungry? You know what? Let’s do a little bit of drinking for the sake of the Victory day. I’ve got an excellent cognac. These days I don’t have a lot of company, but drinking alone is not good, you know!.
- I don’t mind of doing a little bit of drinking if it does not interfere with our business.
- Take a seat in the kitchen, while fetch one photograph for you …
I have only the one picture remaining from that freaking war. I can even give the names of everyone in this picture. In the center next to me, a man holding his hand like Stalin did, is sitting the Deputy Commander of the 3rd Rifle Battalion Kochikyan. He was a good man, later on he was killed in Hungary during heavy street fighting in Szolnok. (At the website www.podvig-naroda.ru are commendation lists, according to which, the Deputy Drill Commander of the 3rd Battalion Kochikyan Anushavan Oganezovich, born in 1914, was decorated with the Order of Alexander Nevsky, the Order of Patriotic War of 2nd Class and the Order of Red Star). Sitting next to Kochikyan is our Battalion Commander Fedorov. (At the website www.podvig-naroda.ru are commendation lists, according to which, the Commander of the 3rd Battalion of the Sevastopol’s 779th Rifle Regiment Fedorov Mikhail Grigorievich, born in 1917, was decorated with the Order of the Red Banner, the Orders of Patriotic War of the 1st Class and the 2nd Class, and the Order of Red Star. Note by S.S.). Between me and Khokhlov, behind us, the Battalion’s Party Instructor, Mosin, is siting. He was directly hit and torn to pieces by a mortar shell … (Apparently Stepan Georgievich is confused about something, as at the website www.obd-memorial.ru are documents, according to which, the Party Instructor of the 3rd Battalion under the 779th Rifle Regimen Captain Mosin Alexei Ivanovich, born in 1916, was wounded on the 25th of March, 1945 and died of wounds on the 28th of March, 1945. Note by S.S.). The Battalion’s Chief of Staff, Captain Generalov is standing next to Fedorov.
- What a strange tunic he wore! Was it ripped off from Germans?
- Well, dude, then we wore anything we could get, like paupers. If you were to crawl on your belly, all of your attire would instantaneously turn into rags. We were issued new uniforms during unit reformations only, after the Germans had battered us all.
- Stepan Georgievich, I’ve missed one point. Where were you during the German occupation?
- Well, I changed locations many times. I had to hide from the Germans all the time. I would spend a night here and be gone tomorrow. I was under stress for all three years. I would yo-yo back and forth… All young boys and girls then would be rounded up and taken to Germany. Besides, my father was hiding on the run.
In Feodosiya we had a small house at the corner of Sedov street. Tolya Ryadinsky lived in the neighborhood. (Ryadinsky Anatorly Vladimirovich, born in 1924, was a machine gunner of the 779th Rifle Regiment under the 277th Rifle Division, decorated with the medal “For Courage” for the battles on the 23rd of October, 1944 near Kisorosczi in Hungary. Note by S.S.). An underground passageway was dug from the yard of our house to the basement underneath his hut. The floor in the hut was covered up with soil and logs. Whenever there was a round-up, we would hide there with the entrance concealed by rags and other stuff. We would sit there as quiet as a mouse, and shook with fear, while the policemen stamped around on the floor with their iron plated boots, and turned everything in the house upside down.
- Didn’t you strive to get to the partisans?
- I tried to but failed, doing this, that and the other. However, in Dzhankoy when the Germans began retreating I had an occasion to help the partisans. The Germans drove trains from Dzhankoy to Sevastopol and dumped them into the sea to prevent them from being captured by our troops …
I was given the assignments to deliver some boxes and crates, one at a time, to Dzhankoy. What was inside those boxes, I don’t know. I do suspect that it was trinitrotoluene. What was the procedure for delivery? I would get into a converted freight car and travel with the other passengers. Do you know, where would I put my cargo? (Laughing) Right under the guard’s nose! The Germans arranged a guard booth in every railcar. I would put my cargo near the guard’s feet and then stand near the exit just in case. I would get off the moving train with my cargo every time in a different place.
- Who directly handed the boxes to you?
- Uncle Sasha Kulikovsky did. (It is likely that he was Alexander Alexandrovich Kulikovsky, one of the well known leaders of partisan movement in the Crimea. His name was mentioned in the posted interview of N. F. Tolkachev (NKVD and SMERSH) – by Y. Trifonov. Note by S.S.). He used to live here in Feodosiya with his wife and three daughters. Later on when he became a partisan commander they were executed by the Germans. Some sort of bitches betrayed them all. By the way, I used to have a superior officer. I think his name was Stavnichny. Though, it might well have been his cover-name. So, he, Kulikov’s wife and daughters were “taken to pieces” by the Germans. I am sure that someone had betrayed them. What bitches existed then! We have always had plenty of those damned traitors, more than necessary, now and then …
Well! Why don’t you eat anything? At least have some fish. How come? You are my guest, aren’t you? Come on, let’s drink to the Victory!
- Nobody would refuse drinking after those words! To the Victory!
Stepan Georgievich, it is a well known fact that the Germans are a serious-minded and well organized nation. Were you ever caught by roundups or at check points?
- Once in Melitopol I was on the verge of being caught with one of those boxes on me; there was a roundup in a market. I was a little careless, perhaps because I was looking at foodstuffs, I don’t remember now. Some SS men wearing cloaks and metal plates on their chests had surrounded the market and began making everybody’s life a “nightmare”. It was really bad … Damn it! And I had a pistol and one of those boxes on me! I was lucky to escape. (Since Melitopol was a strategic hub, the town housed quite a large number of police, gendarmerie, Abwehr, SD, and other security forces. Several underground groups were destroyed in the town. Note by S.S.).
In 1941 I was on guard at the Subash water ring main. Many different things happened. I would stick anti-German propaganda leaflets on walls around the town, gathering intelligence on where in the town the Germans were concentrated and where they had their artillery batteries.
Dacha Stamboli Resort
During the amphibious landing of our forces that winter in Feodosiya, even though I didn’t directly fight as a soldier, I saw a lot. For example, I was a witness of the sinking of the steamship “Jean Jaures”. For a long time the opinion persisted that it allegedly had hit a naval mine. What mine? I saw with my own eyes how it was attacked by 11 Stukas (Ju-87 dive bombers). All the bombs had missed their target, but the last one, the little asshole, hit it! It was either the engine room or ammunition hold – the ship immediately sank. It was loaded with tanks, ammunition and who knows what else!. It is still there on the sea bed. (Extract from memoirs of the sea transport commander of “Jean Jaures” ship B.S. Rubenchik: “… The third voyage to Feodosiya turned out to be less successful. The Luftwaffe during the day went on with their almost incessant attacks and by that time three transports “Tashkent”, “Zyryanin” and “The Krasnogvardeyets” had already been destroyed and several other ships damaged in Feodoisiya. This time “Jean Jaures” didn’t have time to be unloaded before dawn, and because the port as such did not work it had to be unloaded with boats, and in the morning the air strikes were resumed.
One of the bombs exploded very close, and the ship was severely damaged – the steering engine failed, and the underwater hull seams split and water began entering through the emerging cracks; many smaller holes were found in broad sides and in deck superstructure – as they were counted later, there were about three hundred of them. In addition, the shock wave had broken the ship free of its moorings and it began drifting out to sea …
…The sea passing this time also went smoothly and in the early hours of January 17, “Jean Jaures” arrived in Feodosiya. When “Jean Jaures” was in Feodosiya harbor only within a range of three cable lengths (0.5 km) to the Broad pier, an air dropped German magnetic mine exploded under its hull. The explosion was very strong blowing a big hole in the bottom of “Jean Jaures”, causing it to sink within a few minutes.”
The official cause of “Jean Jaures’” destruction is the tripping of a magnetic mine. Having been partially unloaded in Feodosiya overnight on January 15-16 “Jean Jaures”, for fear of enemy air-raids, went out to sea. On the January 16, 1942 at 09:45 PM, while entering the port of Feodosiya, the ship deviated from its course and triggered a magnetic mine. After a few hours of struggle to keep the ship afloat the order arrived to sink it. Captain G.N. Lebedev ordered that the radio equipment be dismantled and the ship scuttled by opening the seacocks. A part of the ship’s crew was rescued by the patrol motorboat “Kabardinets” and the minesweeper “Gelenzhik”. Forty of the crew were killed. It was the fourth and the last voyage of “Jean Jaures” to Feodosiya. Note by S.S.)
- What were the days of the amphibious landing operation memorable for?
- They (the Black Sea Fleet amphibious assault ships) bypassed Feodosiya oversea and approached Bald Mountain. A red signal flare was launched and the show began! The ships stopped in the bay and began artillery bombardment of the town with major caliber (primary armament) cannons. (The artillery bombardment began on December 29 at 3.48 AM. Note by S.S.) The entire town rocked back and forth. The Germans leaped outside into the snow and wind and ran barefooted in underwear covering themselves with blankets.. They had been drinking alcohol as it was almost New Year’s Eve. All were boozed up with their half naked women squealing. They had it large, you know. Whores! There were many of this kind then …
I met the landing troops near Dacha Stamboli Resort. After capturing the town the Germans had organized their hospital in it. Since the landing operation followed by the storming of the town was such a great surprise for the Germans they left their wounded behind.
A group of about 50 marines was fast advancing along Lenin Avenue. Germans opened fire at them from windows of Dacha Stamboli. The marines took their knapsacks off their shoulders, put them at the wall and stepping on them, broke into the hospital. They reached the second floor (first floor in UK) fairly quickly, but got stuck at the third floor (second floor in UK). The Germans had barricaded themselves in and continued firing back. Infuriated by their resistance the marines began killing all the wounded. I’m honest with you; they threw them through the windows together with their beds. Then I began prompting them: “There he is, son of a bitch! He hasn’t run this way, he’s run that way.” They finished their business with the third floor also. In a word, they shot them all – a heap of corpses was piled near the sea. Then the marines tackled the Romanian gun crews near the stone bridge across the railroad where a pair of small bore antiaircraft guns was set up. Later on many of their bodies were collected along the rails. One smart-assed Romanian, who had looked after the Germans, jumped out through a window and landed on the pile of corpses. He was lying in the pile, from time to time raising his head, looking around and waiting for an opportune moment to escape. A marine in a knitted helmet liner came up to me, handed a captured German rifle to me and said: “Listen, kid, why don’t you shoot that Romanian? Look, what he’s doing, what a pretender! He is still alive and moving.” I took the rifle from him, chambered a round and stopped, looking at the marine’s belt buckle with an anchor. “But it’s pitiful, you know!” He smiled: “Come on, don’t diddle-daddle, kill him! He wouldn’t spare you!”
I aimed at a head in a sheepskin hat and smoothly pulled the trigger – Bang! Shot, recoil in the shoulder …
Shall we drink another round?
When the german 46th Infantry Division vacated the town
of Feodosia/Russia in December1941 they were forced
to leave their non-transportable heavy wounded behind.
When the town was re-conquered on January 18th
1942 the Infantry-Regiment 105 found the wounded
left comrades beneath the side-wall halfway hastily
buried still in their bandages. They had been slain or
killed by dropping them off the side-wall by the Red Army.
(The striking description of the massacre of the wounded recounted by Stepan Georgievich is much like the episode of the capture of a German hospital by Soviet Marine Infantry during the Evpatorian Amphibious Landing operation, which I had never come across before in public media. Therefore I decided to look for some other references or proof supporting his story. Unexpectedly the Internet search service quickly provided a reference to the requested subject. One of the English language websites dedicated to WWII contained the photograph of the Germans killed in Feodosiya with a caption in English (below).
This episode was also mentioned by Field Marshal Erich von Manstein: “In Feodosiya the Bolsheviks killed our wounded that had been in hospitals there. Some of them in plaster body casts were taken to the seaside, splashed with water and left freezing to death exposed to the icy cold wind”. The marines certainly had no time for watering and freezing the wounded. Note by S.S.).
After a successful landing our troops almost reached the Old Crimea. But as usual there was disorder and confusion everywhere! For example, the tanks were unloaded in Feodosiya, while ammo for them was sent to Dvuyakornaya bay. What a pain it was going to be to haul the shells across the mountain! So, while our troops were loitering hither and yond, the Germans recovered from their surprise and struck again. Oh my God, the things that went on there! I remember a tracer bullet hit one guy’s arm and severed it leaving it dangling by a bit of skin. He, while running, pulled his severed arm off and dropped it. In shock, he was still shouting: “For Motherland! Forward!” Then I saw him on the ground, no longer moving. Many different episodes of this sort happened …
– Women at war. What do you remember about them?
- About women at war? I had something that I wouldn’t call a “love affair”, but rather I’d call an “unforgettable encounter”. At that time I was enlisted in a submachine gunner company attached to Battalion Headquarters. I was dubbed with the nickname: “Sonny”. I was always at hand to help everybody: - “Hey, Sonny, help out here! Help out there! Head over to headquarters, Sonny!”
Once in Czechoslovakia we took one village by force. There was a landowner’s manor where a certain landowner lived. That landowner had three daughters. The eldest daughter rendered any service to us, assisting with anything she could. She would bring food and wash and mend clothes. She was so fine and good looking. She was busy and I was a “powerhouse”. So, as you can imagine, she began casting looks at me and I began turning my looks to her. One night she stopped me near an apple tree and started to chat with me (in Czech but still understandable for a Russian as both languages are Slavic): “The gentleman is a good soldier, right? You are a big help to the gentlemen officers. Stay with us, soldier!” – “I cannot stay; I took an oath of service. Here is for you my address, write me a letter. If I stay alive, I shall come and marry you!” Her face turned bright. She smiled and caressed my hair. Well, as you can understand, we both were young, 20 years old. Spring was all around and the war was about to be over. Everybody wanted to live and love!
Anyway. It was in the year 1947. I worked in a cannery. Out of the blue…
A letter arrived! Two years had passed, I had forgotten everything. The letter was in Czech. How could I read it? I spoke to the party instructor: “Listen here. What shall I do? I’ve got a letter, but I cannot read it. I know, from whom it is, but cannot understand a thing.” – “Umph, I know one Czech in quarantine. I’ll take the letter to him and he will translate it.” I gave the letter to the party instructor without any hesitation.
Two days later – oops! I was summoned to the Special Department. Come on; get your ass in here! A big fat man with dim eyes was sitting at the desk: “Hey you! Know what? Do you have connections abroad?” – “What connection? Hey, you know what? Fuck you! I wish you had been in my shoes there abroad, and then I would have seen what connections you’d have had. And you, no doubt, would have vowed that you'd never, ever do anything like that. And you would have urged your dad never to do anything like that either. Understood? I just left my address with a girl. What if I had been killed? At least someone would have remembered me. At least one living soul! Are you satisfied with such an answer regarding my connection?”
They thought about it, frowned, scratched their heads and said:”You are dismissed!” (Laughs).
Let’s have another round …
- What impressions did you have of the Czechs?
- The Czechs welcomed us with flowers. Whenever we liberated some town they were already there. They would shower us with flowers, kisses and hugs…. But the Hungarians were bastards!
- What decorations did you get for the war?
- The medals “For Courage”, “For the Capture of Budapest”, the Order of the Patriotic War. During my last battle the Battalion Commander told me: “Sonny, stay alive, hold on! I will make you a hero (of the Soviet Union), I promise!” But, I –oops, fainted from blood loss. Luckily, the Czechs picked me up and took me across the river. So, I didn’t get the hero’s title.
- Do you remember, how the medal “For Courage” was handed to you?
- The deuce if I know. But I have all the papers. I can bring them if you like.
(At the website www.podvig-naroda.ru is a commendation list, according to which, the rifleman of the 8th Rifle Company of the 770th Rifle Regiment Red Army Soldier Fedorovich Stepan Georgievich, born in 1924, was decorated with the medal “For Courage”: “… on the 1st of January, 1945 in the battle for the village of Gorna Plachtintza having approached an enemy machine gun nest, he threw hand grenades into it, thereby enabling his company to advance. Note by S.S.)
- Were the battles in Budapest heavy?
- Oh… Boy! But I cannot recall any specific episodes as you request. It was sort of a bloody carrousel. We would whack them and they would gnaw us. But the city was nice. The Danube was flowing, such fancy churches were there. We took a lot of POW’s! As for the food rations, the POW’s were given the same food rations as we.
- Did the tanks help you?
- Yes, of course! The tanks couldn’t fight without us. Once they came into the streets they could be immediately destroyed by enemy fire from behind a corner. Acting as tank mounted infantry we would often pull off pranks. Sometimes three or four tanks would arrive and we would be mounted on them. In street fighting the tanks without infantry didn’t stand a chance.
The T-34 was a perfect tank. We would mount it and whatever terrain there might be it would rattle off 60 km per hour to the hilt! They also were fitted with 85 mm cannons. Fire from these guns would crush a German panzer.
- Did you personally capture any POW’s?
- Of course. We captured many of them. Capture was particularly dense towards the end of the war. They apparently decided to save themselves for the future of Germany believing that there was no longer any particular reason to fight for their Fuhrer. But the prisoners of war varied. Some of them wept. On closer look we would see such a sucker captured, sobbing and whining. Or, for example, the SS men! One hell of bastards! A trapped beast standing and staring at you. As the Russian saying goes, “Only the grave can straighten the hunchback”. The Banderovites (followers on infamous Stepan Bandera – leader of the Ukrainian nationalists) were sons of bitches also. Now their veterans are strutting around with their Ukrainian Insurgent Army … Do eat something! Here is the fish, I fried it myself. A little bit more (alcohol)?
- Were the Germans formidable foes?
- They were very strong, oh dear! What else could we do? It was the war. Some could get used to it quickly, others couldn’t. One man once in the field could immediately be seen working with his entrenchment tool. Once he dug himself in deep enough to have his foxhole ready, he would continue digging the trench towards his neighbor! The other one would be too lazy to dig, which meant that his life was over! I dug so many trenches in those days! Now it would take a year and an excavator to dig as much. I dug like a mad mole, with my entrenchment tool in a blur. Hard to make? Anyway, you would knock, knock and knock … And in winter?! It was really bad. You would dig deep into the snow, without reaching any soil. But when you are deep into the snow, I must say, it is so warm, quiet and tranquil. It seemed to be warm, but when you folded your service shirt it would split.
- Did you get any booty?
- We did not mistreat the civilian populace. That was out of the question! But when we took prisoners of war we would immediately relieve them of their “Parabellum” pistols. We also looked for foodstuffs on them. Jackboots, cigarettes, cigarette cases and lighters were legitimate booty. Because we had smoked horse manure rolled with newspaper. Hah…
Once just before entering the Carpathians one Senior Lieutenant told me: “Let’s go, Sonny, and chase some Fritzes, I am dying for a smoke. While the rest of the personnel are getting their clothes washed and dried, we’ll be right back.” The thing was that the Germans were fleeing from our encirclement near Jassy towards the Carpathians in small groups and we continuously had skirmishes with them.
That lieutenant and I walked across a cornfield and began ascending a hill …
Suddenly he pulled me down and commanded: “Quiet! Holy cow! We have just missed a hell of a fix. Just look at them. See how they have positioned themselves here, like in a rest resort”. I looked and saw a bunch of Germans who had made themselves comfortable in the corn. One of them was tearing up some papers, another was plucking the straps of his braces on his belly, someone’s wound was being dressed, the fourth was sitting in a chair and all the others were fussing around him. We started crawling back. We ran up to our comrades sweating, barely breathing: “There seem to be German Staff personnel escaping our encirclement. Come on, hurry up!”
Oops! The guys put aside all their work and hurried to the place! Some of our men were barefooted and bare-chested. Our first intention was to capture all of them alive, but suddenly the Germans opened fire. Then we began shredding them right there in the corn. A bunch of them were killed! Three colonels, fifteen officers and other adjutants were killed on the spot. Two colonels and one general were taken alive, plus some other smaller fry! In a nutshell, we ripped off their command staff to the hilt!
- Did you incur casualties in that battle?
- Yes, we lost three men.
- What did you do to the wounded Germans, finish them off?
- Not at all! Never! Unless killed in the heat of the moment, they were taken to our medical personnel. Had they the opportunity they would have shot our guys without the slightest twinge of conscience. For us, summary executions were prohibited. God forbid should the Special department personnel find out that you had executed a German; they might execute you next …
When I escorted a German general I took his wristwatch and jackboots away from him. (Laughs).
Our Regiment was commanded by Reuzman, and the Division by Preobrazhensky. (From September, 1943 through April, 1945 the 227th Rifle Division was commanded by Major General Preobrazhensky G.N. For skillful divisional commanding during the Crimea offensive the title of a Hero of the Soviet Union was conferred on him as of May, 1945 – Note by S.S.) Why do I remember them so well? All the prisoners of war were taken to the Divisional Headquarters. And who escorted them? Submachine gunners did.
When that German General was taken to the Headquarters he proceeded with complaints, alleging that his Uhr (watch) and jackboots had been taken away from him (Uhr – clock, wristwatch in German- Note by S.S.). He pointed his finger at me. As you may know, Yiddish and German languages are similar. And he, the stinker, insisted on pointing with his finger towards his watch and jackboots.… (laughs). Reuzman nodded compassionately, while looking through the content of the General’s briefcase. A corn mȁmȁligȁ (hominy) fell out of it. (Mȁmȁligȁ - a porridge made out of yellow corn flour. Note by – S.S.). He (the General) apparently had entered somebody’s house, grabbed it and put in his briefcase. The Regiment Commander showed me the mȁmȁligȁ, winked and said: “Do you see, that’s good stuff, real booty! But you have taken jackboots from a good man. What kind of Red Army soldier you are? Give everything back to him. Here is a requisition form for you, take it to the Housekeeping unit and take any pair of jackboots you like. Tell them, this is my order!”
I had to return the booty, including the watch. I returned everything to him …
Reuzman liked the captured papers very much – the German General was immediately washed, shaved, groomed and airlifted to Moscow.
It stands to reason, if I didn’t kill a German, he would kill me. War is a hard thing. It’s even hard to tell about it. I used to suffer nightmares, but now I seem to have forgotten a lot …
Once early in the morning we were walking along a highway to replace a battered division. Fog was all around. Along the sides of the road were some strange heaps. We came up closer … I’’ll be damned! Piles of corpses, corpses, corpses! All the dead were our soldiers. How come, guys? What happened to you?! Why didn’t our command take care of you?
Apparently they had been caught by friendly fire or German Nebelwerfers (six-barrel mortars), which we used to call “Vanyusha” or “Luke Mudischev”. So many people died for nothing. But I want to add that by the end of the war we killed as many of them as they did us.
We usually buried our comrades near churches or big structures to landmark the place. We didn’t care much about the Germans, buried them right there in deep pits.
Here in Feodosiya near the Dacha Stamboli there used to be a fancy German cemetery. From 1941 through 1944 they buried the cream of the Aryan nation there. Later on under the moron Gorbachev, who overnight ruined our great country, when the dacha was converted into an alcoholic rehabilitation center; someone began digging up the lawns at night, extracting the corpses of the Germans and sending their nametags (“dog tags”) to Germany. I think, all of them were reinterred. The Germans used to pay two thousand DM for each nametag.
- The stories of fighting in the Carpathians are not told very often. Can you tell me something about that, Stepan Georgievich?
- Our entire regiment found itself in a German encirclement. We couldn’t communicate by radio; the Germans might intercept the signal and crush us all. It was out of question …
- Kesha, fly out of here. (Stepan Georgievich banished a parakeet) Don’t bite, fly away! He is upset that I didn’t feed him. Let me talk to the man. Fly away. (Laughs) Let’s drink another shot …
So, where were we? The Carpathians, right? We were encircled and whenever we attempted to break out, we failed, were hit everywhere, despite whatever we tried. It was wintertime, cold, frost and snow. Bugger! Day one, two, three. On the fourth day we saw a column …
About 30 German panzers were standing in the gorge. The Germans were working around them: hauling ammunition, refueling with gasoline. The sun rose. We, at the top, with bated breath were looking at them. Still they were the Germans, not us. They had every comfort that could be imagined: thermoses, chairs, tables, to the hilt! As for us, we were sleeping in the snow, but they had all the comfort of home, as if they were out hiking. They cackled and talked to each other.
The Regiment Commander assembled our personnel and began his speech: “Guys, how much longer we will have to suffer? Let us attack them! Let’s give it a try. Do we have mortars? We do! Do we have antitank rifles? We do! Do we have submachine gunners? Do we have machine gunners? We do! What else do we need? Open the emergency cans, take everything and we will hit the bastards!
On the Regiment Commander’s signal we opened fire. The mortars fired off, the antitank rifles wooed, the machineguns joined the concerto. The Germans rushed about their tanks. Fuel trucks flared up, the ammunition truck exploded. It seemed like fun. They abandoned their tanks and ran away. We rushed on the attack down the mountain. But the mountain was high, about 500 meters, with snowdrifts. While we still were halfway down they came back to their senses and began nailing us down, beating the dust out of us! Wow… What could we do against the tanks? No artillery. Mortars against a tank are complete garbage.
Frostbitten, wounded and slouched we spun around back and forth – there is no limit to human endurance. The remnants of the regiment went back up to the front line. A reconnaissance party was sent across the German positions to the Soviet lines at night. But our countrymen there said to our reconnoiters: “You are Vlasovites! We cannot trust you.” That was just great! They didn’t allow us to pass through. On the third day the Regiment Commander said: “That’s enough, how much longer can we wait? Let’s break through their defensive lines and then they’ll be fucked!” So we rushed forward, beat up the Germans, broke through their trenches out of the encirclement and began shouting at our countrymen: “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? Are you out of your fucking minds? We are Soviets! How come? What’s the number of your division? We will remember you morons, as long as we live.” Hey, I’ve forgotten their number. (Laughs). I think, it was the 333rd division.
- Where were you on Victory Day?
- As I had been wounded I was taken to Rostov-on-Don. There we were sorted out for transfer to hospitals.
- Did you happen to encounter German panzers at the end of the war?
- Why not? I think I had knocked out two of them near Balaton in Hungary. You would bind together a cluster of grenades which you could stick under a tank track. If the tank had already passed over your trench exposing its rear to you, you could toss it (the cluster of grenades) on its engine compartment. We would let a tank come up close and toss the grenades under one of its tracks using both hands. The tank would start making snoring sounds ... Then our artillery would begin nailing it. Before they (the crew) even began bailing out we were already there waiting for them – bastards! Once they began crawling out of their upper and lower hatches with their walleyes, especially when their tank was on fire, we picked them off. What were the types of tanks? “Tiger” and “panther” are on the tip of my tongue. To be honest with you, I have to confess that we had no time for their names. When such a ”motherfucker” was plowing forward against you, any tank would seem like a “tiger” to you. There were six of them forcing their way towards us. Besides, we had been shelled by their artillery. One of our self propelled guns couldn’t stand it, exposed its position by gunfire and it was immediately burned down. Such terrible burn down losses! Oh dear … That Hungary!
We had antipersonnel “pineapple” hand grenades. A German long handled stick grenade (M24) would fall into your trench and spin. You would grab it and toss back at the Germans and it would explode there.
- Were you encircled near the Balaton?
- Yes, we were, not only near the Balaton. Near Szolnok when we were “re-cutting” across the Tisza, German panzers were on the rear edge of our firing positions and began messing up everything and everyone around. But our guys stood fast and responded by firing antitank rifles. At the end of the war we realized that standing your ground while your neighbor stood his would save all from enemy breakthrough and encirclement, which meant that it was not the end. So while we stood fast in our positions, our artillery began its work from behind the river. Then our “Katyusha” rocket launchers came up and gave a major whack: “Hash-hash-hash.” Projectiles would burn up everything within a 12 meter radius. You would come up to a dead German, touch him with your boot and he and his bones would fall to ashes!!
- Can you say a couple of words about your superior officers?
- On other occasions we would be unsuccessful in our attack. We would charge and lose a few of our men. We would then repeat the attack but without success again. If we got near some high ground or village, General Preobrazhensky would immediately arrive. What a nice person he was! He would crawl all over the frontline and meet everyone – “Well, guys! Have you had troubles here? Can’t you capture that?” –“Yes, Sir, Comrade General!” – “Hey, artillery, spit a couple of shells over there to make their task easier!” He always carried 200 mm artillery pieces on traction engines behind the division. Those would fire their shells and we could see them flying! They would cause a five storey building to fold down.
One more thing. I think it happened near Prague that the Germans used gas shells against us. Gas masks were immediately issued to us and we were given some appropriate training in salt mines to get to know how the gas smelt. You would stick your finger under the mask to get a minor dose and immediately run out of the mine …
By the way, now I am also a superior officer. What do you think my present military rank is? I am a Colonel! (Laughs) Why do you think it is so? To become a colonel one must graduate from the Military Academy and know everything to the hilt! Hah!. War veterans now are given promotions in ranks every other year. My grandsons tell me: “Come on, granddad, live on until you become a General!” I tell them “To hell with your stupid idea of my becoming a general!” Oh! What a circus! I am laughing out loud … (Laughs)
- Can you tell me about how you were fed at the front?
- Everything happened there, bad and good. Sometimes we starved three days in a row – had nothing to eat. Maltreating the populace was forbidden. To be honest, we would come up to a wealthy house, seeing sausages and ham hanging behind a window sash. We would wait till a shell or a bomb exploded and under the cover of its noise we would break the window, grab whatever we could and run away.
- What submachine gun did you have?
- The PPSh!
- Was it good?
- Oh, yeah! (he puts his thumb up). I looked after it as if it were a little child. It was lubricated, adjusted and wrapped in a martial cloak. You know… It was the perfect thing. Once a bullet pierced its stock. You asked me if I had seen any SS men. They died in the same manner as everybody else. So, during street fights I fired potshots at them! All of a sudden I felt a sharp pain in my palm! Hm. It passed all the way through. My wound was dressed with a bandage and I carried on, as if nothing had happened! The battle was raging all around and I had no time for rest! Here it is, I’ll show you. It entered here and exited there. (He shows his right palm with the visible scar of a bullet wound. The tendon in his ring finger was pulled taut, causing finger to fold.)
A shell fragment impacted me here, so hard that it knocked me down. Touch it, the fragment is still there. (A hard node with sharp edges was felt near his ear lobe). Another time a fragment broke through the back of my helmet, cracking the back of my scull. I was lying shell-shocked. My head was bandaged, and I went on again.
When we were still at a distance of about 25 kilometers from Prague, I got whacked for the last time. A bullet pierced my foot. Look, how it has mishealed. (He shows me his foot of irregular triangular shape). I was in hospital in Czechoslovakia for a week and underwent surgery. It was only a hospital in name only! Military cloaks and straw were strewn on the floor. The wounded were yelling all around. And there was only a nurse to attend to them. The surgeons were hacking away at all to the hilt. The expertise of Soviet surgery has significantly improved because they had more than enough of the likes of us for practicing. Someone might die, but who would be held accountable for that? Well, nobody. The bullet remained in my foot. Who cared? All that mess was encased in plaster and I was dispatched in a hospital train to Makhachkala. There I lied in a hospital for six months. There I underwent another surgery. They were about to amputate my leg, but I didn’t give in. The surgeon, while smoking, told me: “You might have eaten a lot of shit. You are lucky now! Your leg was plastered, but no bullet was found. After a little while your leg would have to have been amputated. Luckily I found that bitch (bullet)!” It turned out that the bullet had passed in my foot across the toes, crushing bones, and stopped near the big toe. They had made a cut and examined the foot. As there was no X-ray, my leg was plastered above the knee, and that was it! The plaster cast was so strong, oh dear. One could not break it! I thought to myself: “Why should I linger here? Why don’t I break it and make a move back to my unit?” It was so difficult without my home unit. I knew all the guys there. We had been together in so many places; hiding from bombs in one trench, always shared whatever food we had to each other, and so on …
I picked open the plaster cast and escaped from the hospital and I was toddling along towards my unit, when suddenly I got a fever, my body temperature jumped to 40 degrees... What was I supposed to do? I was taken to the operating table, my foot was cut open and the bullet extracted. The bullet was all green! It had putrefied, holy molly!…
Speaking of the PPSh submachine gun, I can’t forget one episode! I think, it happened in Hungary, where we besieged the encircled German units, having taken an intersection of three highways on the outskirts of some village. As if enchanted, they would walk in groups towards that intersection right where our machineguns were waiting for them. By nighttime when the fighting subsided, as I remember, I was assigned to a battle outpost. I saw an ice-glazed nutcase riding a horse towards me with a mortar attached to its back. I swear, I fired all 71 rounds in the PPSh submachine gun at him. (Capacity of the PPSh submachine gun drum-type magazine is 71 rounds. Note by S.S.). I am telling you… he kept sitting erect, no effect! Can you believe it? … I fired a second magazine, damn it, I took the horse by the bridles. He slumped to the side, sank down from the horse with his face down to the snow. He finally fell. There is one more episode I have forgotten to tell you …
- Hang on, hang on. What was with that guy?
- Ah? Yes, he wore some kind of bulletproof vest. Back then! Can you imagine that? And the second episode happened back then in that freaky place Hungary when we were making our way out of the encirclement. We were walking in a foot column carrying the wounded in the middle, with a platoon on either side and three of us walking in its vanguard. It was early morning and we walked. So we walked and walked - oops!
- Halt! (Stop – German)
I jumped across the sandbags and right off fired a multiple round burst at the silhouette. The guys jumped in over the breastwork from different sides also. We looked closer. It was a machinegun emplacement!
- Stepan, look, what you’ve done. You’ve cut him in two!
- No shit?
- Indeed, Just go and touch.
I had cut that machine gunner into halves. Different things happened there. Ah, So!. Shall we finish the bottle?
- No! That’s enough for me. Otherwise I won’t be able to go home.
- Don’t worry, you will. Or you can stay in my place. The holiday season will begin soon.
This is for me and that is for you (pouring out alcohol). Come on! Where do you need to go? To Moscow? My uncle lives in Moscow, my relatives live in Leningrad, in Belorussia and in the Far East. Everything around is linked together so closely. How can we give up our relations? What nonsense that we now live in different countries! Come on, dear fellow…
- I want to tell my dear people of Russia that I have always stood up for them and always will! God willing! I am telling you, but for the Far East men we would have pissed Stalingrad away. Those guys stood fast to the hilt. Snow, hunger, bitter cold, whatever, but they didn’t give a fuck! I will tell you one thing. No matter, relatives or not, give my best regards to everybody! Would you care for a smoke? No? Please, don’t take it personally if I’ve said something wrong today. Let’s go outside, be my company while I’m smoking …
|Interview and literary work by:||S. Smolyakov|
|Assistance in text edition by:||N. Chobanu|
|Translated by:||N. Kulinich|
|Translation review by:||Charles. G. Powers|