Nikolai Guzhva

Published september 27, 2010

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By the beginning of the Great Patriotic War I served for almost two years as a sergeant major in the 47th Separate Rifle Battalion and I was to be demobilized in the coming fall. The battalion belonged to the Kiev Special Military District. Our location was the city of Nezhin, Chernigov Oblast’, Ukraine, 120 kilometers from Kiev toward the northeast. There was a large restricted object in the city, its perimeter was some six kilometers long. If the Germans bombard this object, Nezhin would be annihilated. Maybe they wanted to seize it, since they bombarded only the local railroad station. Our unit suffered casualties of a bombardment on the first day of the war.

A. D. – Did you and others in your unit feel that the war was already around the corner? Do you remember some preparation for the war?

N. G. – Do you know, in 1939, as I was a student in the city of Vladimir, the radio broadcast chattered about the hated “white” rulers of Finland all day long. Therefore, the Finnish war was expected. (Thanks God, I didn’t get there. In that war our men suffered more casualties from the severe frost than from enemy fire).

In 1941, however, we didn’t hear anything special. We had the radio only in the Lenin’s Room of our barracks. Stalin completely believed that the Germans wouldn’t attack us.

Not so long before the beginning of the war one or two divisions from Siberia arrived in Nezhin. We saw their soldiers running with mess kits. And we didn't know about the mess kits: there was a good canteen for us. By these mess kits we understood that the newcomers are divisions of the line. It meant that some events were at hand.

As the war started there were many hostile actions in Nezhin. During German air raids some concealed agents used green flares to aim the enemy at important objects. A company had been sent to catch them – nobody was found.

On the eve of the war many units of the Nezhin garrison were directed to different destinations. An infantry unit was dispatched to the city of Kremenchug just on 8 June. Shortly after 22 June, the anti-aircraft artillery battalion on crawler tractors was taken away. That was, so to say, some old junk. And what about combat readiness? It happened that they fired at Soviet aircraft.

A motorized machine gun company (four doubled “Maxim” machine guns) had been taken, too. It was said much later that when the company was encircled in some combat, its commander Lieutenant Uniyad ordered: “Fire with all machine guns!” The forces, however, were too unequal. It is a sad end if you are encircled…

Our battalion remained the only military unit in the city. At that time terrible bombardments began. We got all male Nezhinians to take part in removing shells and bombs from a local ammunition depot. The bombs were three meters long, you couldn’t span them. So we had to roll these bombs outside the territory. Then an order came to retreat on foot. We loaded some munitions and weaponry onto a few trucks that we still had at our disposal. And we retreated up to the city of Sumy where we boarded a train. Our further destination was to be a part of a special army for the defense of the Caucasus that was being raised at that time. We saw a frontlike situation on the railroads during our way southward. Once we passed a train with evacuees that was recently bombed out, and the look of a bloody child’s arm hanging on a door of a car became etched in my memory forever.

Our destination was the city of Mozdok. We stayed there at the railroad station for some two months without special displacements. Then we received a new order: all our infantrymen were dispatched to the Stalingrad area to take part in the city’s fortification. We went there through Kalmykia and reached the Stalingrad’s suburb named Beketovka (it is a city’s district now).

It probably fell to our lot not to stay long. Soon we boarded a train, this time it delivered us to the Cheliabinsk Oblast’, Ural region. Most of our battalion servicemen found themselves in the 129th Separate Rifle Brigade. Two other divisions exercised in the neighborhood. Our group of 500 skiers practiced in the mountains round the clock. The final exercise went successful. We had dinner after that, and our excuse for commanders ordered the skiers to get home on their own. At that time we quartered with local farmers in villages at a distance about 20 kilometers from the place of the exercise. I skied home but after some five kilometers on the way I felt overtired (we were fed poorly at that time – the third rationing category as for men serving in rear). I knew if I sat down, I would freeze to death. With my last bit of strength I reached a village and asked for a cup of water. After slaking I felt much better and became able to reach my home…

Soon we boarded trains and “Ahead westward!” We arrived in the city of Volokolamsk that was liberated on 1 May 1942…

Let's stop for a short digression. About two months ago in the mid summer the War Veterans Moscow Commettee invited me to visit this area. A bus delivered us to Dubosekovo memorial, seven kilometers from Volokolamsk. Hilly surroundings, knee-high grass and a sculptural composition: three robust soldiers with submachine guns in their hands are rushing ahead. And red flowers around the pedestal. Very impressive! What else impressed me – foxholes. (They were half-flooded in spring 1942. And the walls were turfed).

We brought a bunch of flowers and laid it on the pedestal. General Panfilov’s daughter delivered a short speech and bowed to the place where her father was killed many years ago. At the end of the improvised meeting I recited a short poem that I recently wrote. Here are its first lines:

Don’t trample on flowers on this hill,

They’re the heroes’ immortal glory…

After our arrival at Volokolamsk our brigade took part in the famous Rzhev-Sychevka operation. It was accomplished practically by infantry units only. Both Moscow and Rzhev forests were full of infantry units. They performed strange nightly displacements in the forests. For example, we advanced a few kilometers and began settling ourselves. However, in a day or two we had to change our position. We went ahead or … backwards. Not only our brigade but also infantry divisions and corps performed these maneuvers. Sometimes you could see a regimental 76-mm battery there. Several times “Katyusha’s” salvos were heard. The idea was to imitate preparations for a serious offensive. And the Germans “took the bait.” They decided that a general Red Army offensive would be there. And at the same time our General Staff was preparing plan of the battle for Stalingrad. Thus we were helping the Stalingrad Front1.

Our offensive started on 1 August. We went in the direction of the village of Karmanovo. We knew only our goal – to seize Karmanovo, but we had yet to get over 20 kilometers before reaching the village. As long as we fought in the forests it wasn't too bad – just firing. However, when we passed the edge of the forest an open country and a rivulet laid before us, and the Karmanovo standing on a rising ground. Although some ten machine guns were enough to mow down all of us, the enemy had fortified its positions. All Karmanovo's buildings were brick, so the Germans felt as safe there as in pillboxes.

 

 

We attacked maybe 1000 men at once but I don’t remember our artillery preparatory bombardment before the attack (I do remember the three-hour-long bombardment on the Visla River’s bridgehead, when everything was shaking all over. On the Oder River the situation was similar).

Well, on 15 August we went forward, our infantry attacked with no support. They thrashed us like kittens. I was seriously injured in my leg above the knee – by a sniper. I managed only to shout Nazarenko (the company commander, a nice man), “Don’t touch me, go forward!” And it took eight more days to seize Karmanovo on 23 August 1942…

… I remember even names of some villages since that times: Ovsianniki, Kovalenki… I visited that area in 2000. There was no trace of these villages. A huge reservoir based on Volga River and Vazuza River covers now the whole area. And where was I actually wounded? Here it is! We went this way! Karmanovo is now a center of the Karmanovo district, and the name of one of its streets is 23 August Street.

… After being injured, when I was lying immovable – no pain, but as soon as I changed my position, just a little bit, – I screamed irrepressibly (a bone was broken). With great difficulty I managed to crawl and climb into a foxhole. I lay there all day long because of a terrible machine gun whose firing mowed down a bush near my foxhole. I was very afraid of being captured by the Germans…

Afterward the assaulting infantry rear detachments began coming. A medical wagon came and they transported me five kilometers to a field hospital. While on the way along a dirt road we went through a terrible bombardment. Finally we reached the hospital: tents and scores of people lying on the earth near tents. Doctors and nurses worked around the clock. A captain hurried among tents with a helmet in his hand (used as a bedpan).

A young soldier had been put next to me, a blue-eyed curly-haired blond. He moaned all night long and by morning he passed away.

They tried to find a place for me, carried me here and there. Finally I was put in a neighboring peasant’s log hut. A pilot, unfamiliar to me, a captain, was sitting in the doorway and cried bitter tears. I asked him, “What is the reason?”

- “My arm is injured but the wound isn’t the reason. I’m crying because of what takes place at the front: losses, losses, losses! No rescue. As a new regiment arrived – it exists just for two hours of fighting. Terrible losses.”

I asked some injured soldiers who passed us if Karmanovo was already seized. “What is Karmanovo?” – was the answer. They didn’t know anything but blood and death. Burned villages, burning villages. Some soldiers being shot there fell into the flames…

… Nevertheless, we always believed that the victory would be ours. We had practically no deserters. I know only one case when a soldier ran away. It was said that he collected dried slices of bread beforehand.

We, especially the Komsomol members, firmly believed in our victory. Moreover, in summer 1942 our cause already began turning westward…

Doctors of the field hospital decided to evacuate me to a rear hospital for some 20 days – the wound they say is not as big. As I arrived at Volokolamsk hospital it came to light that they didn’t have an X-ray tube. I was taken to Moscow, where they carried out the X-ray examination and put the gypsum plaster over my whole leg. “You’ll lie here for some 20 days, then we’ll dispatch you to Ural,” they said. So I found myself in the city of Chusovoy, a “metallurgical city”. Most of the injured soldiers and officers who had arrived at that time were settled in the House of Culture, while I had been lodged in the Specialists’ House. A nurse washed me thoroughly. All wards were crowded but nobody paid attention to it. An elderly woman, an evacuee from Moscow was my doctor. She treated me carefully. The treatment lasted eight months (instead of 20 days because the bone was smashed to pieces). One day the doctor invited me to the medical commission (its head was the chief of the hospital). They examined my case history and decided to classify me as an invalid for six months. I responded, “I have nowhere to go – my home is still under the German occupation. You’d better treat me for one month more, then I will be ready to fight.” And they obeyed me.

At that period the Red Army made preparations for the Kursk battle. A directive arrived – to empty the hospital. I was directed to the city of Kamyshin. Four reserved regiments were located there; one of them was Estonian. In contrast to others the Estonians were fed according to the first rationing category usually reserved for men serving at the front.

I was a sergeant major of the field service company in a reserved regiment (in spite of my NCO rank sometimes while in action at the front, I was a platoon commander and once, by the end of the war, I was in command of a company – we suffered sizeable losses of officers). Very many years had passed since I served in Kamyshin but I can’t forget how the battalion commander wanted me to supply his family with food. Should I take the required food from our soldiers’ ration? I refused and found myself in the guardhouse.

Soon I voluntarily went to the front. A recruiter, a major of the Air Force, darted among us. He enlisted volunteers for service in some “aircraft-tank landing unit”. A group of our lads signed up for that unit, I was among them. In a week all the “volunteers” received new uniforms. There was a farewell formation of our regiment with the band, then – “Quick march to the railroad station!”

We found ourselves in a city of Dergachi, Khar’kov Oblast’. The unit we were enlisted, the 36th Tank Brigade of the 11th Tank Corps had nothing in common with what the major recently promised. With this brigade we would go-and-ride up to Berlin and farther (when the Americans handed over Thuringen to us).

The corps’ commander, Colonel Zharikov Ivan Alexeyevich, we called him “Batia” (“Daddy”), was an intelligent and steadfast man. Our detachment was a motorized battalion of submachine gunners. When there was no action expected – we were together like the five fingers in a fist. When a command “Forward!” was expected – our battalion would be divided by groups for the tank battalions. Each group was a part of the so-called tank landing unit. The tank battalions also had anti-tank and mortar batteries. I don’t know how these batteries acted in combat. As to the tanks – the T-34 tank was the best in the world, especially after it was equipped with a new gun shortly before the end of the war.

Well, our training in the battalion began. And, what was more important – we waited for the tanks. There were different occurrences in the battalion during this period.

One of our soldiers slipped secretly into a food cellar adjacent to a house where an outside officer stayed. The officer caught the soldier red-handed and shot him down on the spot. Next day our battalion’s formation was called. Some generals arrived to punish that soldier’s commanders. They tore off the officer shoulder straps from both platoon commander’s and company commander’s military jackets before our eyes. (Indeed, the punishment was a temporary one. They canceled it very soon).

 

 

Another local occurrence was closer to me. We stayed three together in a farmer house: the company commander, his orderly, and I, the battalion’s sergeant major.

At the evening of New Year’s Eve the mistress of the house went to her relatives to see the New Year in together. Shortly after the orderly asked permission to celebrate together with his comrades of the company, and left the house. Next morning the mistress arrived – her goat was stolen. Moreover, somebody had “operated” in her wardrobe. She suspected the orderly. (And she was right! The main course of company’s festive table was the goat’s meat. To steal in your shelter is the highest extent of meanness! There we were!)

By the end of 1943 we finally received tanks. Right away, as they said during the war, “Ahead westward!” Our battalion boarded a train and detrained in a small Ukrainian city of Novograd-Volynskii. The following leg of our journey, 120 kilometers up to the city of Rovno, Western Ukraine, we made on foot. We were dirty and frayed while entering the city. Nevertheless, we marched in step and sang cheerful songs.

The battalion quartered in Stavky, a village not far from Rovno. Again we waited for our tanks; again we had both training and patrolling.

There was a couple who owned a farmhouse on the outskirts of the village. We heard that recently their son along with a few friends were mobilized but didn’t appear at the voenkomat (the military registration and enlistment office). They could hide in a huge, three kilometers long, underground vault that stretched from the outskirts up to the forest.

One evening our patrol reported: a man left the house and entered the barn, probably to hide. We surrounded the house and in the early morning entered it. The elderly mistress swore: “No one is here. My son serves in the Red Army.”

We examined the house and the barn – nothing. As we began inspect the garden, one submachine gunner caught his sight of a shell-hole covered with straw. The deserter was here! During the interrogation he led us into the barn. In its corner we saw a hog, its dung and … a hatch! If you go down and take a few steps forward – the passage splits: the near-by entry – to an air hole, the other one stretched toward the forest.

Soon our tanks arrived, and we took part in the liberation of the Western Ukraine. We advanced fast. I’m not going to insist that there were very hot fights – I don’t want to exaggerate these combats…

… Now I’d like to devote several lines to Western Ukraine’s natives. Particularly, when we went westward near the city of Kovel’ to join advancing Red Army’s troops, we saw alongside many local inhabitants who went eastward, as far as possible from the battlefield. I remember that some women crossed themselves, prayed for us, and gave their blessing to us.

It became known recently that the Ukrainian governement instituted a medal “For the Liberation of Ukraine,” and all our veterans who fought on Ukrainian land were entitled to it. However, after the Ukrainian government had awarded these medals to Bandera2 guerrillas, the Russian government refused to receive such awards for Russian citizens.

Being a Russian citizen I’m an ethnic Ukrainian. And I don’t blame these Bandera guerrillas. Our unit had no skirmishes against them. I don’t know whether or not did they fight against the Germans. The media wrote anything. Against us, however, they didn’t fight, it’s the truth.

By the way, there were in our battalion besides the majority of Russians and Ukrainians, representatives of different other ethnicities. I remember, particularly, three Georgians, we called them “Georgian government”: the company commander Lieutenant Chkhartishvili, the platoon commander Lieutenant Kakhuliia, and Lieutenant Mazonashvili (it seems that he had married a Ukrainian woman in Khar’kov and shortly after he was transferred in another unit). I also remember an Azerbaijani, a Chuvash and a Kazakh among my comrades in arms.

After crossing the prewar Soviet-Poland border over the Bug River we entered Poland. The Germans used there heavy artillery guns against us, and we suffered casualties. Without checking we crossed the Visla (Vistula) River and advanced along its bank to the Pulavy bridgehead, some 30 kilometers southward from Warsaw. The Germans used loudspeakers to warn us: “We will drown you in Visla soon!” And we in our turn were fortifying our positions – dig, and saw pines. During six months of holding the bridgehead we made our positions both safe and comfortable. As a result we had in our dugouts not only embrasures but also stoves. We didn’t face significant German attacks at that period.

The Red Army’s offensive started on 12 January 1945. After a narrow break-through, our 11th Tank Corps including the 36th Tank Brigade rushed into it at a full speed. Almost all of our motorized battalion submachine gunners were sitting on the tanks in small groups. (It was out of the ordinary, but that day I was among them, too). We saw the results of the preceding artillery preparatory bombardment: a score of shell-holes, so few Germans could survive. Also many unexploded shells stuck out from the frozen ground. Somewhere the German mortars fired at us. To our group on a tank, these mortars were more dangerous than cannons because of a lot of fragments after a mortar shell exploded.

While advancing, our corps was engaged in several combats. Once we ran up on a quite strong German defense. Our “Batia,” a smart man, ordered us to redirect all tanks to outflank the defenders. (At that very moment a German armor-piercing shell hit the tank that I sat on. The shell passed through directly under the turret. Our losses were insignificant: the driver lost his hand and I was a bit shocked). The brigade obeyed “Batia’s” order: a bit ahead, next initially to the left and then again ahead. There was no resistance to this maneuver – a result of our commander’s military art and skills! It was not the case of Karmanovo when some officers ran with a pistol upward and shouted “Ahead!”

I had wonderful commanders, such as “Batia,” Colonel Zharikov Ivan Alexeyevich, the 36th Tank Brigade Commander, Major-General Yushchuk Ivan Ivanovich, the 11th Tank Corps Commander. Higher – Marshal Chuykov Vasilii Ivanovich, higher – Marshal Zhukov Georgii Konstantinovich! That’s why I came through…

There was a lull after that combat. Our battalion was located in the city of Sedlets. As we fell in the first formation, the commander commented ironically: “You look like a gang.” (On the other hand, we just had given the German division “Totenkopf” [“Death’s Head”] a good smack in the face).

Once during a long march in Poland near the city of Opoczno an odd accident happened. A company commander Chkhartishvili (a Georgian native) through his own rashness perished under the tank’s track. He was dying on my arms. I charged Chkhartishvili’s orderly Jacob Kimi, a native Chuvash, a brave and active guy, “You should gather the local residents in the morning, dig a grave at the best place and bury your commander with military honors – fire a burst from your submachine gun. Then catch up with us.”

 

 

At that time a score of Soviet troops were marching down Polish roads. So I didn't believe that Kimi would ever return to us. Nevertheless, Jacob managed to properly execute everything he was charged to do and reached our battalion soon. (He, on occasion, recognized one of our brigade's trucks by its license plate and stopped the vehicle. Probably his fate was lucky. We still are in correspondence with each other).

One more episode. We stayed in a rural barn not far from a forest while our tank was in about 300 meters from the barn. All of us were carefree and only tank crew commander guarded his tank. Suddenly we saw several German soldiers run out of the forest – sergeant Kimi drove them toward the tank. The group stopped by the tank. And we feared that these “guests” could seize the tank. We rushed there right away. As ever, after being captured all of these Germans proved to be communists.

We didn’t shoot the prisoners of war. We treated them according to the Suvorov’s precept: “Never hit a man who is down.” There was, however, an exception – a company commander with some oddities. When he encountered a prisoner, – he aimed his unloaded pistol at the German and usually commented: “Look at him – this villain doesn’t even bat an eyelid!”

Once we were moving in a full battle formation. (At that time, the Germans began to use the panzerfausts3. As a defensive measure we welded a special “trampoline nettings” to our tanks). There was a sudden stop. A submachine gunner leaped from the tank and examined suspicious bushes for a hidden panzerfaust carrier. We became watchful since a recent fatal occurrence. Our brigade was on march when a German panzerfaust carrier ran out from under a bridge, rushed toward our tank, and hit it. All of our submachine gunners leaped down and riddled him with bullets. The brave commander of our submachine gunners goup Usmanov, a native Kazakh, was killed with a panzerfaust's fragment. The papers of the dead German showed that he was … a native Kalmyk.

A. D. – You already have narrated that while on the offensive each tank carried a group of soldiers of your battalion. Please tell us some details of their actions.

N. G. – Each group consisted of eight to ten submachine gunners. As soon as tank column gets under fire, it disperses but the groups are still sitting on tanks. When the tank stops all submachine gunners leap and get ready to repulse an attack. I remember Colonel Zharikov wearing his American short fur coat set on the tank like a statue, with no signs of emotion or fear.

I should note that the supply and service company of our battalion didn’t take part in combat actions. Nevertheless, during our brigade attacks quite often I was personally on a tank among submachine gunners.

Our offensive in Poland continued on to the German land up to the Oder River. Initially we hoped to seize the city of Frankfurt-on-Oder but it stands on the elevated west bank, while the east bank is a plain. Therefore, we must stop for a while to prepare a crossing operation. Moreover, we couldn't reach the river because of a lengthy swamp. Many tanks became stuck in it, about three kilometers away from the river. Most of them were towed but our tank had been stuck too deep. All of us who were set on the tank ran to the nearby village and brought several logs that helped us to draw the tank out. Finally the tank got to the village and was hidden there.

As a result of working in the swamp, my feet became completely wet. To find a piece of a dry cloth for changing my wet footcloths I entered a house, and took a tablecloth from the table. Then I went down to basement (in case of a German bomb raid) where many German civilians were sitting. I took off my boots, tore the tablecloth, and changed the footcloths. While leaving the basement I said the Germans “Auf Wiedersehen” (Good-buy).

We decided to clean and examine our tank the next morning. Carelessly only one sentry, sergeant Ostanin, a good guy from Siberia, guarded it. By night a group of German stray soldiers bumped into the guard, killed him and ran off farther.

A. D. – Why didn't the Germans bomb your tanks sticking in the swamp? Did you suffered significant losses in this period of the war?

N. G. – When the tank brigade became stuck in the swamp a few Messershmidts circled over our heads but no bombers were seen. I really wondered then at that fact. In general, at the beginning of the war the German air force acted extremely strong. Let’s remember the Rzhev forest, for example: they circled over us permanently and turned us into a bloody jumble. However, by the end of the war I gradually got used to absence of the German air force in the sky. (On the other hand, as our brigade advanced, a heavy artillery unit arrived in a neighboring settlement by the night. And in the early morning German bombers smashed them).

As to our casualties in 1945, I can’t say they were significant. There was shellfire when we stayed at the Oder bank, and sometimes a shell found victims but it was not the same case as in 1942 – we fortified our positions on he bridgehead quite well.

In these combats at the bridgehead we experienced a new kind of German aircraft weapon – flying bombs. It was a small plane carried by a usual bomber. At a specific moment it dropped the small one that was stuffed with explosives. The Germans directed these flying bombs at our temporary crossings but they were unsuccessful because our crossings were a bit sunken.

Twice I experienced a real menace to my life while making my ways by truck to the brigade’s rear detachments. The first episode was a direct mortar shell hit on the truck. In a moment both the driver and I were under the truck. Behind me lay a senior lieutenant whom we picked up by the way. I touched him – gone.

The second case: a sniper killed my driver, and the truck stopped. A local civilian, a Pole, offered to take the truck out of the sniper’s line of sight. As soon as he took the driver’s seat, he was killed, too.

One night an emergency order to 3rd Tank Battalion came: move your positions closer to the fortress and be ready to repel the enemy’s attack. According to a radio intercept, 65,000 Germans, the whole Frankfurt garrison, would try to burst through our defense in order to break away from the encirclement. As soon as dawn began the Germans rushed and managed to press our infantry units. However, our artillery and “Katyushas” were in readiness. All of a sudden they opened a crushing fire! I think a half of enemies were annihilated and the rest were captured. Later I visited the fortress – actually, it was strongly fortified. If we try to seize it by storm, our losses would be have been exorbitant…

 

 

A. D. – Do you remember in details the final period of the war?

N. G. – Our offensive began in April. Everybody got set on the tanks and we advanced in a high gear. The column of the 3rd Tank Battalion shot ahead near a settlement of Martsan (now it is within the boundaries of Berlin). There a friend of mine, the platoon commander Lieutenant Georgii (nickname Zhora) Kakhuliia perished. Around one kilometer away from Martsan a German antiaircraft gun, a quick-firer, managed to fire two dozens of shells at Zhora’s tank. A fragment hit Kakhuliia in his head. Their group buried Zhora on he spot. (After the war mortal remains of many Soviet warriors had been reburied forever in the Slavic earth east of the Oder, in Poland).

We advanced up to Berlin – Frankfurt-on-Main highway and entered the city of Berlin. In such a big city we needed to fight while obeying another set of tactics. The submachine gunners’ main task was to not allow the Germans, especially the panzerfausts’ carriers, to attack our tanks. So we had to be here extremely watchful. And our tanks hid behind buildings. That was not as safe: at any moment the wall could fall heavily. There were many snipers in Berlin.

We almost reached the center of Berlin, around the corner was the Alexanderplatz where the German troops still held their positions. At the corner a jail stood, and we were in its basement. Suddenly breaking news came – the Germans capitulated. Right away we left our covers and began firing all our firearms upwards. That was our end of the war.

Shortly afterward our motorized battalion was given the right to recommend one warrior for the highest military award – the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. An active and disciplined soldier, Liapov by name, was recommended. I supported him emphatically. Much later I heard that Liapov received this award, and in 1966 he died.

A few armies seized Berlin, the capital of Germany, attacking it from different directions. We stayed in Berlin for just two days, on the third day our brigade was moved out. Initially we reached the Dresden area, then we were directed to Thuringia (the Americans liberated this state, later they handed it over to us). Once a sudden stop happened when we moved down the Frankfurt Highway because the Americans still didn’t leave their location in Thuringia. And we were hungry after the two-day-long journey. As soon as we stopped our submachine gunners leaped and ran toward neighboring settlements for “edible spoils.” As ever this “raid” finished with success. In general we never starved in Germany. Here is a proper example.

There was in our brigade a deputy commander for rear services, a major (gone many years ago). Once some of his subordinates told him that a local farmer offered to sell 60 pigs at a price three old deutchmarks per a pig.

- “It couldn’t be!”

- “It’s just a plain truth.”

The major called his assistant Grigorii Ul’ianov:

- “Once I gave you two bags of old deutchmarks to keep. Where are they?”

- “We threw out one of them. The other is here.”

Several trucks were dispatched to the farmer. In some three hours everything was done legally including the countersigned document. Since that moment the major had to establish a pig farm. First he found an appropriate piece of land in the village. And by a twist of fate, Azerbaijani Askar Abyzgalov (a Muslim!) was appointed the pig farm supervisor.

A. D. – Would you like to tell me about the mutual relations between our troops and German civilians, especially women, after the war?

N. G. – As soon as the German capitulation was proclaimed – white sheets were hanging on every house. “The war – kaput.” “Everything – kaput.”

The Germans were very lawful people; they always obeyed all orders and decrees of the Soviet Commandant’s office.

After the war we stayed for almost two years in a former German tank camp by the Nora village, five kilometers off the city of Weimar. No incident occurred. You could go alone to the village and remain absolutely safe.

I can't say anything about rapes on German women because I didn't see such cases. However, I knew of many cases of venereal diseases among the Red Army troops. Particularly, I remember that Marshal Zhukov and Vilhelm Pieck used strong measures to stop spreading of venereal diseases.

Everybody infected with syphilis was directed to some place near Leipzig in the so-called “Wild Division.” They had 12 hours of drilling a day, and the rest of a day – the treatment. Those who were affected with gonorrhoea were subjects to treatment in their units. They received milk injections. The after-effects were so painful that everyone climbed the wall.

Once our chief of the technical department asked me to accompany him on his business trip to Leipzig, about 200 kilometers from Weimar (he didn’t know the German language and wanted me to be his temporary translator). There was in the Leipzig area a special camp for displaced persons that were going to return home, in the USSR. Many women were among them. Everybody was warned that it was risky to “have contact” with these women because of the danger to pick up a venereal disease. Nevertheless, our truck drivers were a special kind of mates – you have to hold and hold them on a leash. I warned them many times but… Once in our camp I walked by the medical detachment and saw our driver Borodin sitting on outside stairs. He greeted me and complained: “Oh, I didn’t obey your warning and now I’m climbing up the wall.”

I don’t know the statistics of the venereal diseases in our brigade. I only know: when German troops came in Ukraine they sowed these diseases plentifully, and the process began…

Soon after the end of the war I was given a summons to appear in brigade’s HQ. They offered me a 40-day-long leave. I was taken aback! At that time was the demobilization of senior servicemen, so I departed on a journey home along with these “elderlies.”

In the end I want to tell you about my initial postwar feelings. After the war I couldn’t deliver a speech because of shedding tears. And wartime nightmares attended me regularly…

Interview:A. Drabkin
Russian text by:R. Aliev and Isaak Kobylyanskiy
Translated by:Isaak Kobylyanskiy
Proofreading:Todd Marvin


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I remember their leader, an unshaven, sweaty redhead with a submachine gun on his shoulder. Having carefully taken aim, I shot at him at a range of 15-20 meters. Immediately, the entire ambush squalled with automatic fire.

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"Sergeant major, our unit commander is an asshole. I want to run away, but I don't want to get caught. That's why we'll make a deal -- you send me to the front, but don't note anywhere that I left, and I'll give you a bottle of "Tarhun" vodka and a block of "Kazbek" cigarettes". The hardest thing was when we had to march 100 kilometers in one night. Trot - gallop, trot - gallop. Endless commands: "Don't spare the horses! Don't spare the horses!" Because by morning we had to be in another place. In a non-combat situation...
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I asked my grandfather whether he was scared. Why did he do so, he could’ve refused? The grandfather answered he hadn’t thought about this, and after the camp it wasn’t so scary (!) at war, and delivering ammo was his task after all, so it had to be executed.

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It is winter, our platoon is on its way to the shooting-ground keeping to the footworn track. The banks of snow are more than a yard thick. The subject of today’s exercise is “How to act under a raid by air.” Suddenly our commander shouts: “Air! Airplanes!” The platoon must to scatter momentarily, and everyone is running through the thick snow. In a minute or two we hear: “All clear!” The exercise could be repeated several times as we make our way. Finally we feel utterly exhausted. Everyone wants to fall on the snow and not to get up; he want to die and nothing more…
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I was a good student in the classroom, but in the vehicle itself I had to stand on my tiptoes just to try and reach the gunsight. The shoots were early in the morning, too, I didn’t really see the target at all – sent all my three practice shells into the empty sky. The assault gun commander was a veteran tanker, fought in T-70s, came to us straight from the hospital. When I finished, he nearly cried, and told me: “son, what am I going to do with you once we get to the front? The assault gun exists to fire at tanks over open sights – if we can’t shoot, we’ll just be a...
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I remember their leader, an unshaven, sweaty redhead with a submachine gun on his shoulder. Having carefully taken aim, I shot at him at a range of 15-20 meters. Immediately, the entire ambush squalled with automatic fire.

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