I, Nikolai Vasilievich Orlov, was born in 1926 in the Nizhni Chir area of the Stalingrad region. There were four members in our family, including two children. My elder sister died of starvation at the age of three. In 1933 there was a famine. My father was an activist, while the collective farms (kolkhozes) were being organized; wheat was being requisitioned and hidden. There were attempts to set our house on fire and other threats, so it came to a point that when passports were introduced in the countryside my parents moved to Stalingrad. Earlier passports were not issued to peasants in the countryside, and none of them could leave their villages for cities without passports. As my father was a communist party activist, we were given permission to leave. We moved here (to Stalingrad) in 1933, when starvation was at its worst. My father was an agricultural worker, like my mother.
Our family originated from the Cossacks in the hamlet of Kulpinsky in the Nizhni Chir area. When we moved to Stalingrad we had relatives there - my mother 's father worked at the Gerhardt Flour Mill, the ruins of which are now in the center of the Volgograd State Panoramic Museum of Stalingrad Battle. There were certain difficulties. In the city my father worked in the agricultural industry, and then he mastered the carpenter’s craft, was hired and began to work on this trade. His identity papers were still not completed.
The Stalingrad 6th Aviation School of Military Pilots was based nearby. Those under 16 who had completed 7 years of school were eligible for admission. When we moved here (to Stalingrad), we lived in the neighborhood named “Balkans”, a little bit higher than where the present day Lenin Square is, one block before the present day bridge across the Volga River. There once was a ravine, which is backfilled now. So, we lived one block before that ravine at the bottom of which was a salt base.
The Volga River is our feeding mother. In our childhood we went barefoot, but were cheerful and friendly. Our neighborhood was situated between the Boulevard and the Volga River - about 60 private houses: both two-storey and single-storey wooden ones. There were around 80 of us children, about the same age. Girls, boys – whatever, we didn’t make any distinction. For us, the boys, sometimes it was difficult competing with the girls; they would run faster and shoot better! Shooting galleries were all around, and in the City Garden, both before and after the war. We would visit those and shoot, gaining different badges as prizes. There was a competition for the first to get badges of different values granted for better shooting. The girls would say: “We’ll be friends only if you overtake me or shoot better than me!” Between boys and girls there was a pure comradeship then.
While our parents were busy workingon construction sites, as the Tractor Plant and other plants were being built, we the children were left to ourselves.But we did not misbehave; maybe just played pranks a little. Before school we would go down to the Volga, where barges were being unloaded. We would catch flies for bait in the eveningand at 6 o’clock in the morning would go to the Volgabefore school, as there was plenty of fish, especially sabrefish, which we used to call "chopper",and they were verybig. Literally in 30minutesthere would be 20 to 25 fishes, such big ones – we would put them in a basket and bring them home. Ordinaryfloater fishing yielded a good haul of fish. They swam the river in schools. There was abundance of them, so good and fat! We would strew them with saltand put them into a box.The boxes then were made of wood, as there was a shortage of cardboard. Then, after strewing the catch with salt we would go to school, which was nearby, School # 38, where now Hospital #3 stands. That school was a 4-storey building built around1940.Before that, I used to studyat other schools. Schoolfor me waslike a second home and sometimes even like the first one. I am84 years old now,but I still remember the Headmaster -Anna Ivanovna Shishkina. She was like a good motherfor all of us. We would stick around her all the time and she would foster and amuse us with good talks near nightly bonfires and the Young Pioneer Organization activities. Nowadays children don’t like to be in school and prefer to leave it as soon as classes are over. But we were different; rushed to and hanged in and around the school until kicked out!
All without exception had a dream of becoming pilots orsailors. I dreamed of becominga pilot.Therefore, all the games we hadwerephysical and active: running, jumping,Russian ball, distance swim competitions - all forphysical development.But we did swim mindfully, with a boat nearby as a safeguard.
- Did you follow the eventsof the Spanish Civil War?
- Sure we did. I had the fortunate opportunity before the war to communicate with Dolores Ibarruri’s son, Ruben, who died here. He finished his studies at our school and at the age of 15 was already a pilot. But even before the war and actual fighting, his eyes had been accidently slightly injured by broken glass. And then he worked at the airfield as an instructor. When the war broke out, he went to fight as a machine gunner, was badly wounded and transported across the Volga for treatment. His mother arrived here with her daughter. She wanted to take him to Moscow, but he was already dying, and the doctors said that he wouldn’t survive. And he still had a chance to say: “ For me this city is like the second homeland, I won’t be able to get home, but this is my second home!” He stayed here (in Stalingrad) and was buried in Krasnaya Sloboda, where a small winery used to be, I think, not anymore. She came again later to have his body reinterred at the public park in the city.
- Do you remember June 22, 1941?
- Yes, we were told that Kiev had been bombed and the war had begun. To be honest, I cannot speak for the entire city, as I don’t know everything, but we lived with two thoughts; that the Germans would never come here - this is the first and the second that we would win! We only began perceiving everything in earnest when the Germans took Rostov-on-Don and went to the Don. I was in the city and heard all the time people murmuring: " They won’t be allowed to advance any further, anyway! The Germans won’t come any closer!" But the Germans went on and on... Now I hear many opinions that the Soviet authorities had allegedly forced the local populace to stay here in the city, under the Germans, under the bombardment, giving the Germans opportunity to kill our people. These’re lies and speculations of those who were not here then.
I was in school. While the Germans were still near Rostov-on-Don advancing from Kharkov and the Soviet troops were retreating, we were assigned as communication messengers to the streets. And when the fighting broke out in the bend of the Don River, we started receiving information, which we then delivered from house to house. I was assigned to Dvorovaya Street where there were about 80 houses. I was supposed to communicate to the people information on where to muster, at what time, which personal belongings to take, their allowed weight and that when the evacuation began they would be advised further. So, when the Germans did finally break through, and launch their offensive from the Don River, the signal arrived to start a full-fledged evacuation. People did not want to leave! You have to understand their psychology. Those who speculate about this... never experienced anything like that. How difficult it was for a man to live, to build his little house, that tiny wooden box, to buy table and chairs, and so on! How could he lose all that at once? Nowadays people have cars and so on, but back then they highly appreciated what they had. They would reckon this way: "Oh no, I’d rather stay here somehow, and hope that nothing will happen to me!" So, people did stay until the very last moment... when the air bombing began... when within the next three days more than forty thousand people perished and the whole city burned down.
- Were you outside during those days?
- Yes, all the houses had burned down. Shell slits were dug everywhere, and what happened next was a hellish experience for the people. Every time when asked, what the worst thing was about those days, I say, when the entire city was on fire. Republican Street was as wide as an avenue, though a little bit narrower. Wooden houses were on both sides of it, on fire, and the flames billowed upward linking together above! All the people hid on the ground. Everything was enveloped in fire as if you were cast into some furnace.
Here I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself in my narration. In May, 1942 I finished the 7th grade in school. I submitted an application to the aviation school of military pilots, passed through an interview and was enrolled. Apparently, such nimble guys as I, were recruited by the bodies of counterintelligence - then NKVD, as they were organizing special recon teams. They studied us and so on. It turned out that we were enlisted cadets and were supposed to muster at a certain location for further evacuation in the city of Gorky. At that time, as the bombing began, all the river crossings were bombed. Apparently we were assigned to a special operations team. We did not know anything about a special operations team being organized, but in any event we were not allowed to leave.
At that time my father was already at war. Our entire family was at war. Father left two months after the beginning of the war - he was a radio operator/gunner in the long-range aviation, flew raids to Berlin and finished the war in Berlin, wounded and with decorations, and lived through the age of 96. My mother fought here in the 10th Division of the NKVD, she knew the city well and was a guide, assisted the evacuation to the wounded and ammunition supply services. I was the only one left. At first neighbors helped each other, then a militia was organized. One day, about August 13 other guys who stayed and I went down to the bank of the Volga, lit up a fire – to fry fish, to cook potatoes and celebrate my birthday! The bombing had already begun. Not until 23 August were the bombing raids here so intense. Then many people left for the front. I stayed here in the militia. My mother was not allowed to leave her service, and the only information that reached me through the neighbors was that she was confined to the barracks and that they went up to Kalach to help out there. In short, I reunited with my father only in July, 1945, and with my mother when we found out that both were alive - back here in September 25, 1942.
It was when I was in the militia, on August 23 when the bombing began; everything was on fire, the Germans broke through towards the village of Rynok near the Tractor Plant and we were sent to help out there supporting the Tractor Plant defenders. We were good shooters, though not very smart. In the militia at the tractor plant I spent about three weeks. When the situation was bolstered there we, the young, were redeployed to the central river crossing boat landing site, where I started in September. That was the main river crossing boat landing site then. Now if one were to walk along Gagarin Street down to the Volga and about 100 meters further along the river bank towards the Panoramic Museum – this is where the old central river crossing boat landing site used to be. It was valuable because there was a steep bank followed by a flat one, which has been leveled by now, but then it was steep. That place was a concreted berth where any vessels could moor. This is the reason why the Germans strived so hard to capture it.
- When did you see the Germans for the first time and what was your impression?
- I was walking up the Ustyuzhskaya street in the area of “Red Barracks”, near the Mamayev Kurgan, carrying water and came across two Germans, but apparently to my luck, not aggressive ones. I was walking and trembling. When communication occurs, then I would gradually start to think how to react, and the fear vanishes somewhere. "Where are you going?" - One of the German asked. There was an interpreter with them, such a friendly man. "I’m carrying water that way." – I said. He interpreted that. The German asked again, "Where are your mother and father?" - "I’ve got not any. I’m all alone, living with my grandfather” and called some address. There were such worldly questions. The first time it was difficult but then that trembling vanished. Anyway whenever I saw the Germans again fear was still there. The most important thing was to stay calm, self-control, not to tremble and not to fuss. Humans were all alike. Among them were also people, workers or craftsmen. Luftwaffe pilots were different - they would chase in terrain a single soldier to kill. Whom were those pilots made of? -Sons of the Hitlerite party dignitaries. They had a different upbringing.
There was Captain Petrakov of NKVD. There were 200 people of personnel attached to him. They were deterring the Germans in the sector from the Lenin Square, which then was called the Square of 9 January, down to the theater of Musical Comedy. The Germans had already occupied the Voroshilov District, occupied Pioneerka district and reached the Theater of Musical Comedy. In the center everything was this way. There was no front. The Soviets were in one house and the Germans in the other. On one side of the street – the Soviets, on the other side - the Germans. All mixed up.
I had to fight at the boat landing site... apparently I was the only young boy among the others who were much older... we miraculously survived, did our best, endured. We were waiting for arrival of Alexander Rodimtsev’s troops. September 13 was the worst day, the Germans could easily take the river crossing boat landing site, and that would have been it... Rodimtsev’s troops crossed the river overnight September 14 through 15, at about half past three in the morning. It was the 42nd Regiment of the 13th Guards Rifle Division. They landed right here, where we were holding the lower river bank, the Germans were right above us. They shouted to us: "Let's sing songs together!" and so on. We occupied the boat landing area of the river crossing boat landing site reduced down to a small land strip. Vasilliy Chuikov’s, 62nd Army was cut off, and there were only its remnants.
When the 1st Regiment crossed the river, there were no more opportunities for others. The Germans would sink people! At least that one, the 1st Regiment, managed to cross. The Regiment was commanded by Colonel Polev, who had been at war since its very beginning, fought in the Brest Fortress and in the battles of Kharkov.
When the first Soviet troops had crossed, I was introduced to the command as I had already been around, knew the city and the stealthy routes through ravines and people knew me. Alongside with the regiment there was a commander of regimental SMERSH, then referred to as special department, which encompassed the intelligence service (scouting). So I was immediately introduced to him and within a month I was no longer a camp follower , but was already enlisted – drafted, even though, I was underaged, - only16 years old. So after September 15, 1942, and before the end of the war I served first in regimental intelligence, then in the army intelligence, and finally in the front intelligence.
Regimental reconnaissance (scouting) of close quarter combat. The task was as follows: I knew the city well, ushered our combatants around, helped them bypass the Germans, creep up underneath and seize their machinegun nests. I was a guide, but also had to shoot firearms, for some time.
Later, when our troops bolstered up here, I moved to distant reconnaissance (intelligence)... Our artillery and everything else were behind the Volga, our soldiers here only had small arms on hand and that was it, well, maybe small mortars and machine guns.
In the city, when the Germans came, there was not yet any rigid control, there were no bans, like when walking in the city was allowed or not. As elsewhere, it was later established from 7 am to 5 pm, and only for those who had identity papers on hand. If someone was caught at night, he was immediately executed. Though, in the beginning it was more lenient.
According to the records from my dossier, during that period I happened to be more than 71 times in the German rear, in close reconnaissance, then in distant reconnaissance (intelligence). Well, close reconnaissance was easier, especially in the early period, when we had to go up to 3 times behind enemy lines.
The task was to watch for where the Germans were concentrating their forces and about to break through. Our small assault teams destroyed those formations, disturbed them and opened fire on them. There was no communication, or it was poor. On spotting such in one place or another, behind a railroad, I would run and report and those spots would be shelled from behind the Volga. This was in the beginning. And then more serious things began. There was room for distant reconnaissance, more premeditated. I had very little time to sleep. I had not been in a warm bed or even gotten hold of boiling water for a very long time. In my pocket I only had some press cake – residues of oil squeezing from sunflower seeds, or mustard oil cake to eat. Well, all the soldiers who were here also ate only this until November. And after that, when we started pressing the Germans, driving them out, food supply and everything else more or less improved.
Lice infested! Well, they prevailed after the war, as well. I know it, because I had to live for some time in Beketovka (where the largest POW camp was organized) as well. Up until 1949 the population couldn’t get rid of the lice! Well, all just lived with that. Now looking back, I ask myself, how could I endure all that? - God only knows, apparently, because of youth and recklessness! I still wonder how I survived.
I used to have such dark hair, eyes and eyebrows that all the others took me for a gypsy. And then literally by November 1942 I already had gray temples. But some people may say: "Oh, come on!" Well, it was really scary, and spooky. When you walked out on an assignment, first there was some frustration, and then some soberness would come and you came back to your senses.
Then the tasks became more specific, more preparation was involved; moreover, as we had no radio communication, especially when it came to distant reconnaissance. There are two things that I particularly remember.
The first German army units when they entered the city, they were more or less tolerant, both old and young. When I was carrying water from the Volga they would ask: "Where are you going? Where are you coming from?" - "Here, I took and am carrying some water." Well, some of them, prankish, would pour the water out, "Go ahead, Russian, fetch some more!" And others drank it, some would offer cigarettes: "Do you smoke?" - "Nein! Nein!" Or some would even give you a piece of bread. The Germans could be also different. Later they began to fly into rages, when their special (punitive) authorities arrived and opened detention camps. Then walking by became dangerous. Restrictions on the movement were introduced.
We must give credit to the way our security officers trained and instructed us, as well as the SMERSH officers who were experts in intelligence and counterintelligence; all were old, experienced and thoughtful, but they did not sleep. As soon as you come back, the instructor who sent you only then would go to bed: but before that he did not sleep, but worried and waited... There was from them such support, such love! This kind of friendship existed among the soldiers in the army - well, nowadays it is nothing like what it used to be. The commanders were like fathers! Sometimes forgetting subordination we would babble out, "Pop!" Some even felt the impulse to call them “dad”. In the 13th Division there were only the seasoned Siberians; when they were still here, their replacement, the boys of the age of 18, arrived.
I was getting ready for a sally. At night I was supposed to be smuggled to the camp, from where the civilians – women and kids, were driven to Kalach, which was a transit point for their further deportation to Germany for slave labor. We had been preparing this action thoroughly. In the city center I knew everything inside out, but not in its outskirts as it was fairly far, an hour away by foot.
The Germans had organized, as I had to reconnoiter later, an airfield. Nowadays it is the site of our military airfield as well. The Germans were the professionals and immediately identified the prevailing wind direction, elevation, sheltering factor, and so on. And they took very good care of it. The Soviet pilots sometimes succeeded to fly over it, so our intelligence had general idea of that area. However, the Germans had done everything to make us think that it was a false airfield. Well, behind the Volga the Soviets also had a lot of false airfields. So, this one was so skillfully disguised into a false one that our intelligence did not pay much attention to it. This airfield was organized in the village of Marinovka, as I reconnoitered later. The main task of the Luftwaffe units based there was mining the Volga (air dropping naval mines) to prevent the crossing of the Volga River, and that airfield was literally 5 to 7 minutes of flight away. They operated quite successfully, dropping their mines, as so many Soviet vessels triggered them! The Germans were in a hurry, because if the Volga froze up, it would have been difficult for them to continue.
I had been through a lot of training. I was just a boy. A more or less adult man could arouse suspicion and would have been immediately detained for verification of identity, while little attention was paid to children. All fled from the Germans, fled and were happy, but I kept going to the Germans. So, I integrated there. We were smuggled into a detaining camp, which stood in the Stalingrad suburb of Dar Gora (mountain of Dar). There was no other way to get there, either on foot or in a vehicle, as the enemy patrols were everywhere. I was supposed to head towards Kalach, and approximately in the area of Marinovka (I was given land marks and taught how to use the compass, but was not given any, just instructed to use rough guesses) to split off from the others and go for reconnaissance. Of course, I had studied maps and weapons, makes of aircraft, and so on. I went there as a part of the group, which consisted of our assistants as well. Nobody knows, there was one man, he is dead now, his last name was also Orlov, who after the war was a professor in the local Teachers’ training institute. So, that man, an experienced guy, had been planted into the German intelligence. On that reconnaissance assignment I caught a glimpse of him a couple of times.
We travelled this way – were driven on foot: during the day, and at night the Germans stuffed themselves into some building, while our people (well, in September it was fairly warm, but chilly at night) huddled together by some haystack, only 2-3 soldiers were watching. About ten men were in escort, while we, whom they drove, were a group of 120 people. Well, where would anyone run? And to be honest, some of them walked without coercion, especially young girls, who had been enticed by the Germans propaganda in leaflets which were dropped around – that their lives there would be allegedly so good, that they would find jobs and so on and forth, which certainly was a hoax.
At night in the vicinity of Marinovka, which I figured by the creek, I left. It was easy to break way, I left without any obstacles. But I had to climb a hill, I knew the map. I had been told: "If you cannot get closer and there is guard, then disguise yourself and watch at least one day, hold on to see how many planes would land and take off, to figure out then whether this airfield is functional or not." Well, where would I? Well, I went up one ravine, looked around - It was so cold. There was somebody. It was an old lady sitting dormant, slouched under a bush. Then I saw that she had a long rope and five she-goats and a he-goat tied to it. They were grazing below, while she was sleeping. Well, it immediately occurred to me: I would untie those goats, drive them up and from the top of the hill the watchtower would be seen. Looking up I realized I literally had to cover 100 meters more to see the area where the airfield should be. But the watchtower really bothered me. As I had become a little bit more experienced I impudently drove them forward.
Even though I was born in a village, I came to the city as a child, and knew animals very little. I grabbed a she-goat and dragged her while the he-goat was standing with the other goats around him. I circled, dragged, but they stood still. Then I slipped, fell, and the he-goat sensing the press cake in my pocket reached out to me. I moved forward, and he followed me. Then I got up and walked, he sniffed the air and kept following me. He went, and the she-goats after him. The old lady was still sleeping, and I was not sure whether she would cooperate or not... Well, I went on and thought that I had better hurry up. I heard a shot from the watchtower! Apparently they saw me. Nowadays I still have good eyesight: memory fails but my eyesight is OK: I proceeded to get a better look at everything. There were 3 rows of planes with 12 in each row, all together - 36! I pulled back and rolled down the hill, as I thought that I needed to leave the place, because if they should come up and realize that I had seen the airfield, they would be sure to capture me! I rolled down the hill until I could only see the watchtower, not the airfield.
It really happened this way: they might not have let me go... but when they hopped up to me and realized that the airfield was not visible, as I had rolled about 80 meters down hill, that was it! I was lucky that the officer on duty that day was a young pilot, about 35-years old. The officer, two soldiers and an interpreter from Ukraine drove up to me. The officer was talking and the interpreter was translating with such rudeness towards me: "What’re you doing here?" I explained: "I was herding the goats, but dozed off, and they ran away so I went up to return them." The officer looked unconvinced. That he-goat helped me out – kept reaching to me. He provided me a cover story: that since he was reaching to me, we were apparently good friends, and the other goats to him, so, knew me too, so I was not lying. The officer realized that, looked and smiled a little. I thought that he, apparently, had children, because he was looking at me one time tenderly, and the next time seriously, and that Ukrainian interpreter kept harping on: "Herr Officer, what's the point of talking, let’s take him to the commandant's headquarters." The officer was silent, waved to him and said something. Well, I thought that he would let me go now.
Then, as I looked around, there was the old lady running with a stick, "Oh, you bastard! Ah, you’re a parasite!" Well, I thought that would be my end, now she would run up and accuse me of stealing her goats... But she turned out to be smart and patriotic person, a refugee from Rostov-on-Don, her two sons fought in the Red Army. Later she was decorated with the Medal "For the Defense of Stalingrad". Later she was also helpful to our intelligence as I reported where she lived. A cover story was invented for her. She was insider among the German officers as she knitted socks for them. In short, as I found out later, she was very helpful.
She ran up and began playing her part: knocked with all her strength with her stick on my back. Later she would say: "Well, my son, what else was I supposed to do? They wouldn’t have bought it otherwise!" And shouted: "How many times did I tell you?.." She kept beating me with her stick. Luckily, I wore a torn quilted jacket, which slightly cushioned the blow, but then the bruises still remained. The officer said to the interpreter: "Let them go!" But the latter retorted: "We need to take them!" The officer: "I said, let them go!" The translator came up to me, pushed me and said: "It’s been your lucky day today, bastard!" He must have had a sixth sense. He kicked me at my ass and we went off! She went, ostensibly slapping on my back and scolding, and said: "You go and don’t look back!" The Germans stood still a little while, looked around, got into the vehicle and left. We descended the hill.
Movement in the city then was more or less possible, and in the villages the Germans had already established such an order that all the villagers had passes, and their agents were all around, snitches, and if there was a stranger, then it immediately had to be reported. So, we couldn’t go to her place. She was from one of the hamlets near Marinovka, there were many of them. She told me everything.
In this area, there lived an old man, and that old man’s granddaughter was our intelligence scout with a radio station. I was supposed to get to her to convey the information. I came to that old man, introduced myself, and gave the password. He left a note for her: I wrote the data on a piece of paper, and he passed it on.
I was taken to Beketovka only four days later. When I was leaving that area I saw our bombers heading towards the airfield and after a while bombed it. “All right”, I thought, “it worked!” I was so cheerful! I went on not feeling anything, though it was damn cold and frosty, as it were already September, after all. I was so joyful, though, hungry. Whenever free of duty you would be dying to have rest, exhausted. But whenever such grateful moments occurred, life energy would come from somewhere, you would begin to walk - no fatigue.
First I arrived in Beketovka and from there was moved across the Volga. I had rest there near the village of Krasnoslobodsk for just 3-4 days and then again returned to this river bank.
There was such an episode. I hadn’t had to see dignitaries very often: regimental intelligence officers and occasionally Alexander Rodimtsev from a distance. And that was it. And then I was told: "Get ready!" and ushered to where nowadays there is the bridge across the Volga, down the river where it turns right there used to be a hotel. It has been circulated in newspapers that there was an old Rodimtsev’s command center with a big chimney, which was going to be destroyed but something of that center has been restored instead. The Army command center was where now if you should be walking from the stadium the “Tourist” hotel is, and another big command center was dug further from the stadium down to the Volga River. It was further than where at present the Neftesindikat (Oil Syndicate) building is. There I was introduced to Rodimtsev. I came up to him, we shook hands and hugged. He asked: "Have you been fed?" - "Yes, I have!" - "Well, let's go!" I had no idea where we were going. It was the only time when I had the honor to meet with Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov.
I was a kid then. I did not consider myself an adult, and at times I was even embarrassed. The soldiers of age 20-22 were just boys, but they seemed to me as mature men. And then everyone was brought there and all were watching him so tenderly. And I came there too. It was not the case as if I was proud of myself; I came in and heard the other people murmuring: “here is the hero! I went on and could not realize: “Well, what have I done that is so special? Why are they ushering me in here? They, probably, are going to give me another assignment”… I was figuring to myself. Then the aide said: "Vasily Ivanovich will come here soon." Then Vasily Chuikov came in: "Well, where is he?" He came up to me and hugged! I shrugged my back "Oh!" - "What?" - "Ah, the old lady has beaten me up!" - "The old lady with goats? You know lad, if you keep stealing goats you’ll be in trouble! It’s a deed punishable by beating!" And laughed. And then addressing the others: “We are sure to win with fellows like this!” And with such jokes he hugged and kissed me and asked: "What reward do you want?"… I am honest with you, back then people did not think about any rewards and decorations. Generally, as we had been retreating all the time very few people were awarded in the Battle of Stalingrad. Only after the Battle of Stalingrad rewards and decorations started being ladled out generously. The entire 10th Division of the NKVD had perished here and only 368 its servicemen were decorated. Not a single one was honored with the hero’s title.
Vasily Chuikov asked again: "Well, what do you want?" I looked at him... he wore such a fine gabardine uniform – it’s a fabric – such a nice tunic... And I said, "Here's what I want, such a tunic!" (laughs) And he said: "Do you want all of this?" - "No, I said, - I don’t want your insignia and decorations, I just want a gabardine tunic, like this one!" - He turned and laughed: "Well, what shall we do with the guys like him? Let it be so! Tomorrow morning take him to the 13th Division and hand him such a tunic!"
Back then taking photos was not particularly allowed and there were no facilities for that. But my photo was taken anyway, and the picture, was handed to me later - the only one. Then my future fate was associated with intelligence and I had no more pictures. The only one I have now is this one – wearing a gabardine tunic.
At the same time when they gave me the tunic I was decorated with the medal "For Courage", according to the statute, prior to getting that medal "For courage" one was supposed to be decorated with the medal "For Battle Merit" first. But I skipped that part and was handed the medal "For Courage" in the first place.
The second serious event presently happened at the “Red Barracks”. The Germans had established a hospital there and brought the newest equipment there. And there was no way to approach them, ravines were around... Before the Germans my father's brother had worked at the “Red Barracks” as a military doctor. He lived in a 3 storey building, which is still there, outside the territory of the barracks along with other doctors and command staff. My uncle’s family had a little boy about five years old. I used to visit them and played with him. When our commanders began pondering about how to get there all approached me as I knew the city well. And when they came to me, I told them about my uncle, they seized on that opportunity as my cover story. If I should suddenly get detained by the Germans I would tell them that I was going there. There were still some residents in those houses, and the Germans used their testimonies, who would confirm that they had seen me before. So I was assigned to do that scouting task.
It was very difficult. Somehow I passed through the ravines. When our troops retreated that apartment was occupied by someone else, and then by the Germans. Some residents stayed mostly in basements and on the ground floor, and the Germans were all around. At night I filtered in there and managed to get up into the attic. From the attic I could spy on everything very well.
- What task did you actually have?
- Observation of what military equipment was actually in that territory. And there was a major amassment: both “Nebelwerfer” rocket mortars and a lot of tanks. At that time, that seemed to be it, I had found out everything and could go home. But, oh my! Once I came out early in the morning and was about to enter a barn. Behind that barn there was removable board and a path into the ravine. I had just come up to the barn when two Germans came out of the house. One of them carried a reel of cable hanging on his back and as he went talking into a telephone the cable unwound from the reel. They shouted: "Stop!" I stared at them and stopped, grabbed some wooden board: "I’m carrying some firewood, firewood I’m carrying!" - "Where to?" - "Ah, here to my grandpa!" Later I saw my imaginary “grandpa” to whom I allegedly carried the kindling. But the German insisted shouting to me “Stop!” and that was it! He stood still himself holding onto his cable. After a while a motor vehicle drove up, officers came out. They got agitated, which was understandable, taking into account the fact that they had detained a stranger at their military facility. An officer with an interpreter interrogated me: “Who are you, where are you from?” They started taking me from door to door. But the people knew me. I said that I had come there and lived in another place.
I went out scouting so many times and every time under my own name. I had always been taught: “Whenever asked give your own name and tell where you lived, don’t fib, otherwise, you’ll get confused and will be caught!” For our deep-cover agents really sophisticated cover stories were invented, but this was not my case. I told them about myself. They started taking me to people’s apartments where residents still lived. The people would answer: “Yes, we know him, saw him around!” The “grandpa” “recognized” me right away: “Yes, he’s mine; I’ve sent him to fetch some kindling… what kept you so long?” This is exactly what he said.
Those people still make me wonder. They seemed to be so intimidated, all illiterate, but how sharp witted and resourceful they were! Patriots! I cannot fathom their devotion! But the German officer was too ingenious: "What is your home address?" I gave my address but said that my house had perished and that I lived at Prodolnaya Street, 28. I had been given a spare address in case of a detention when I was supposed to go to that “grandpa” who would help me out. I had been given a cover story about him.
So we went to that old man, drove up to his house. The door got opened. The “grandpa” apparently got the right clue of the situation. Such a burly gray-haired old man came out, with mustache and sailor’s striped vest, carrying a strap in his hand.
And at once shouted: "Here you are, bastard! What else can I do to teach you the right lesson? Oh, thank you, soldiers, for bringing him back to me!” He approached and began to whip me. The Germans had never beaten me. It did not happen. Both times I was beaten up by my countrymen. (Laughs) Well, he thrashed so heavily on my buttocks that I went bleeding. I was genuinely hurt, got into screams and tears! The Germans were looking at that with such amazed eyes! Well, in short, he played it up so persuasively. And I think: What an actor! In the theater they wouldn’t have played it up this way! Now I remember and think: How come, where did such good people come from!? Well, apparently, our secret services had picked them up and left behind the enemy lines. So that old man also used to be a good agent, back in the Czarist times. He saved my life too.
Further scouting was even more complicated. It was long range reconnaissance. There was one such episode. There was a boy, who was younger than me. Recently as an old man he committed suicide in St. Petersburg. So, I was 16 and he was 14 years old. He knew German perfectly as some his ancestors were Germans. He used to live in Leningrad and he had been perfectly trained. His task was to plant explosives under Paulus to assassinate him. This command arrived when he was not yet in Stalingrad, but in one of the hamlets. Our intelligence had ferretted out where he was exactly. I accompanied that boy. During that period or earlier this plan was reported to Stalin. So, Paulus might have been assassinated long ago. But he should not have been killed by any means as he was a war criminal. Hitler also might have been destroyed by our intelligence, but Stalin said: "They must only be put to justice! Because, if killed all their crimes will be forgotten and then we won’t be able to prove anything! We must show the world their bestial face - what they have done!" So, that boy had gone to fulfill his task but then that order was revoked. What happened to that guy?
The stories of that boy, mine and the others were encompassed in the book "Child soldiers of Stalingrad." He had such a fate. I went to St-Petersburg for his funeral. I was told there that his father and mother had been killed and he passed through the war. He was dropped into German territory and somewhere at one point triggered a landmine, lost one leg at the knee and hurt the heel of the other, so since then he had to use crutches to walk. When he returned from the war he was still a boy without any references or documents. When the war was still on, he was supported. Vasily Chuikov also knew and supported him, provided all the references as the guy was not assigned to any military unit. He had worked for SMERSH, and when those people were gone, how could he prove anything? In short, the title of war veteran was finally conferred on him. Our staff gave him references, while Chuikov was still at service, his military records were restored, and a single room apartment was granted to him. And then there were communalizations of accommodation stock when financially disadvantaged citizens were being driven out of good apartments, he was kicked out to some municipal residential facility. He applied to different authorities, but all in vain. Then in 2005, being an old man, he got up on a railway overpass bridge and jumped down to kill himself.
The Battle of Stalingrad was approaching its end; I was advancing along with the 13th Division, and suddenly I was summoned to the Special department. When the Soviet offensive began I was in divisional trains, hiding there, and occasionally was sent for reconnaissance, went to Rostov, rambled everywhere. So, once summoned, I got into a motor vehicle and started off. By then I was already shrewd and started thinking of the reason for that summons. There were a lot of traitors, betrayal... So I thought to myself: what if somebody has defamed me? After all, somebody might have seen me together with Germans all the time at Dar Gora.
Like Sasha Filippov. A monument was eventually erected to him. Even though there were so many speculations about him, so many opinions of his being allegedly a German collaborator. It was this scare that drove his parents into the grave for nothing. The guy had a real fighting spirit. He was a cobbler and mended boots for German tankers. The tankers were fond of him, while he added sand into their fuel tanks. The tanks were coming and going, but one day they were started there for running in. Apparently, the Germans launched their investigation and ferretted out who was responsible. And then he was brought to the Kazan Cathedral and hanged.
On arrival in Beketovka I was brought to the Stalingrad GRES power plant, the main security building. There used to be a hotel before the war, then a canteen, such a long building. There was the home of the NKVD when Stalingrad was liberated as in the center everything was demolished. I was taken to the department chief Alexander Ivanovich Voronin, with whom, as I remember, we had met before... Sometimes, in addition to intelligence acquisition, I was given some other errands. I did not guess what I had been actually doing. I would be told: "You will go to a person and pass a pack of tobacco to him and tell him, this is a parcel for the old man from his son." Those people were our agents and those packages carried some data. That person would hand me something to bring back. In short, those were our deep-cover agents planted behind enemy lines, and I worked as their postman.
I was invited to an office where I saw a smart looking man sitting at the second desk. He looked at me when I entered. In front of him there was a lot of stuff: some cigarette cases, phones, saucers, too many objects on the desk. I looked at them, and then turned away. He moved everything and asked: "In which position were the objects initially?" I was putting all the items where they used to be while Voronin was telling him about me. When I finished he looked at me with surprise in his eyes: "Wow, what a fine fellow! How could you remember it after I moved everything?"...
They offered to me: “Do you want to work for intelligence or counterintelligence?” - And while thinking I pondered the arguments: “Intelligence means to work abroad. But I have no education; don’t know foreign language well, just a little bit of German, just 7 grades. Probably I would prefer counterintelligence.” Alexander Ivanovich had recommended me, and I was assigned to the agency in the special force where I was during the war until 1945. Nowadays foreign intelligence is separate, but back then it was a part of the agency and was referred to as the 1st Chief Directorate, which meant foreign intelligence and the 2nd Chief Directorate meant the counterintelligence. Later, as a part of that force I was dropped behind the enemy lines. That was my regular job. Those missions were called “secondments”. I was even trained for dropping in Königsberg and some younger members of the team were brought to get acquainted with me. So I went there and I was in other places.
- Which specific tasks did you have there?
- I would be assigned to a specific military unit. Before the offensive I would filter into a city to find out where particular fortifications were there. I was not alone there; there were the other boys like me who acquired the intelligence of where fortifications and defense screens were. It was a frontline reconnaissance service in the proper sense of the word; both close reconnaissance and long range reconnaissance. If you look at my photo, you will see just a kid, even when poorly dressed - just a frail little boy. When our troops captured Königsberg I returned here to Stalingrad and worked for the counterintelligence. My serious service began with trips abroad, something I did until about 1987 - for 45 calendar years. At the age of 17, I was already enlisted to the agency and my entire life since then was connected with intelligence and counterintelligence.
Now I remember and wonder, what smart and intelligent men the agents were, even though they had only a five to seven year education in school! Men of wide outlook, they knew human psychology very well! They trained and instructed us very carefully, trusted us and felt anxious about us! As I have already said, my instructor wouldn’t have gone to bed or eaten anything until I returned from scouting, but would only then join me at a dinner table.
- Did you go behind the enemy lines alone or in groups?
- I was always alone. The groups were usually organized for crossing the frontline, after that groups would split up and all would pursue their own tasks. The training was very intense.
- Which elements of training can you mention?
- The serious training was given later. I was already a good marksman. The most important thing was the continuous ability of self-control! Sometimes gut checking sessions were held: I would peacefully walk far in our rear and suddenly get seized by some soldiers, who would fall upon to bully me: "How did you get here?" The other one would cry: “I’m going to take you our senior officer”. They were checking how I would react. And I never flipped out. Somehow I realized or guessed what really was going on. All the agents were surveyed and checked this way and based on the results, were trusted.
Now I am not sure whether or not such young boys can be trusted. I think this way: The guys now are very educated, capable of operating different equipment. We did not know anything like that. What helped us then? It was, apparently, hard work. I was at home alone, at the age of 8 years I cooked Russian borsch (beet-root soup) and prepared the stock of dried salted fish. We always had 3 to 4 sacks of dry Vobla (roach fish) for the winter until spring. Hard work builds up human character. All my friends, who were there, had come from good families. The girls were also like that, they could do anything: washing and cooking. Wealthy life is good, but moderate life is a virtue. If a person gets bellyful of luxury it’s not a bit of good for him, but spoiling.
- What were your responsibilities at the river crossing boat landing site?
- Making sure that the river crossing boat landing site was not overloaded. There were attempts of desertion, with officers and armed hijacking. Some mean ugly brutes in civilian clothes would show up. It came to skirmishing. So we deterred all that. And the most important thing was deterring the Germans from capturing the river crossing boat landing site. If the 1st Regiment had not crossed the river during the night of September 14 the Germans would have smashed us. But we stood still. There was a real panic. Even we barely believed that we would hold it. But when reinforcements arrived everyone thought this way: "If the Germans break through, we have enough strength to deter them!"
Not much has been told of this. While we had bombing and fighting here in September and October, behind the Volga and further on there was harvesting in collective farms. Women reaped the bread grains, and the Germans shelled them. They reaped everything, nothing was left. The Germans even dropped incendiary bombs to burn the crops, but the people were on alert to extinguish them all. There was such patriotism! People were conscientious in their work. They came to work without coercion because they realized: either they would save the crop, or die of hunger. Therefore, there was a struggle here, and behind the Volga there was another struggle!
Moreover, pilfering grain ears was a punishable deed. Now people say: “Stealing the ears was punishable by execution!” Why, none of them was ever in a situation where people were starving and on the brink of a nervous breakdown. In such a situation a person is not in touch with reality and is not afraid of taking anything! Not just taking a little, but taking even more. If everyone took more, then nothing would have been left, everything would have been pilfered away! Right now it’s peacetime, anyway, people pilfer things! Everywhere, whatever opportunity is offered people do pilfer. But back then, when people starved and were distended with hunger... they refrained. Such patriotism, in my opinion, had never been displayed before and never will be displayed again. Apparently, it was the situation, that people had great hope that everything would be fine, that we would be better off. Movies and comedies that showed good were screened and helped out a lot. We did not see murders or violence in the cinema. Though all those existed in life. And nowadays if you turn on TV, the children should be better kept away. All our present day TV shows are about murders, strangling and so on!
- Did you wear the uniforms at the river crossing boat landing site?
- No, we all worn civilian clothes. The personnel of the 10th Division of NKVD wore the army uniforms, but we all were in civilian clothes.
- What were you armed with?
- As for me, I had a rifle. There were very few sub machine guns. Then I began to carry a revolver. I always had 1-2 grenades and 2-3 bottles with incendiary fluid in a wooden box. That was all my weaponry.
Recently we met and talked with President Medvedevin the Veterans’ Center. I said: " Dmitry Anatolyevich, you shouldn’t have abolished military training in secondary schools. The active army service duration now in Russia is just one year and no basic military training in secondary schools. A man cannot make a good soldier without a basic military training in school. And he said: "This issue is being addressed." Then he said that a year of active service would remain, but nothing still has changed in schools. Now Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s wife Natalia has published a text book of abridged versions of his literary works. I wonder whom such an abridged version of education will bring up.
- At your work did you come across the Vlasovites?
-Oh, a lot!
- And who they were, what kind of people, and what made them become renegades?
- I basically was faced with Western Ukrainians. The Western Ukraine had been cut off from us and people there had a different upbringing, a freedom-loving one. They were just such people, easily succumbing to foreign influence! The British Intelligence service was at home there. They had residency there. Everything played out and played along in their favor.
What is the bad side of human nature? If he kills someone and is not punished for it, then, as a rule, he will inevitably commit another murder. Back in the wartime they were free to rob, or to rape. A young guy, a Ukrainian nationalist, if he wanted a woman he would go to a village and rape one. Then they wanted to eat and to drink. So, they took all they wanted away from others. In the period after the war everything was destroyed, and had to be restored. Food was in short supply. Gradually the men became frenzied in the wilderness of the forests.
Once I went there for a business trip. Somehow God spared me, but so many comrades of mine were killed there... It got to the point that the Ukrainian nationalists got drunk, caught there a Russian partisan, as they called the Russians “Muscovites” – stretched and tied him on a sawhorse (for wood sawing) and sawed him into halves. Therefore, it was very scary, people were intimidated. The bandits did not work, they did nothing. They all were young and had their own specific form of patriotism. For them it was like exotica: living in the woods, apparently so strong, all were afraid of them.
During the Soviet era my wife and I went to the resort in the city of Lvov. It was back in the 60s, everything was quiet. In Lvov when we arrived in the resort, we were told: " Just don’t wander around here apart from each other, walk together!" We could end up being beaten back in those times. Everything comes from one’s upbringing. It’s like in the Caucasus. If all the young people there had been given decent jobs and life… they wouldn’t have gone to the mountains to become bandits, where they’re given food and drink and where they didn’t have to work.
- Do you rememember how Order No 227 was proclaimed?
- My attitude to history as is follows: one should trust the history if it is written by eyewitnesses. Although among them there are also some who like to embellish, to portray themselves as heroes and so on, but still. Now there might be some big scientist, 38 years old, who just was born then, but did not see anything. So he begins writing history drawing data from different sources, sometimes blackening what actually happened. Because now it is a sign of the times ; the more slander he writes, the sooner it will be published. Behold America! There have been 42 presidents and now there is a 43rd, but did you ever hear any of them “badmouthed” by their citizens? There many different communities in America, but all Americans are patriots of their country, while we defame our leaders. Did we really have nothing good in the past? We appeared to be gradually returning to our basic principles. My generation is so lucky ( I’m talking on behalf of the veterans ), we’ve been through so many events and how happy we are! We lived through so many political moments in our lives. As for blocking detachments, I can dare say that it was an absolutely necessary measure, since people fled from the front. It is not a secret to anyone, especially here. It had to be done here. I must say that here in Stalingrad I did not actually see any blocking detachments. There were some behind the Volga, but not here at the river crossing boat landing sites.
Why did so many commanders suffer? The decisions were made under the conditions of poor communications, so commanders withtheir soldiers were leaving their defensive positionwithout orders. Isaw it with my own eyes. A one and a half ton truck “GAZ AA”approached the river crossing boat landing site with a captain in the cab and five soldiers in its body. The captain came out of the cab and proceeded: “Get out of the way; we need to get on the ferry!” But the ferry was being loaded with the wounded at that moment, the Luftwaffe could attack any moment, but the captain still insisted. He was asked to step aside. But he pulled out his pistol and said: “I’m going to shoot!” And surely he would have. So, he was shot dead and that was it! The soldiers turned around and drove off to their unit. Well, what can you say about that? It had to be done... The people who are writing history about that time should have been there and seen all that.
- What impressions did the foreign lands give to you?
- Königsberg, of course, was a great city! There was another episode. I had to be in Poland for some time, and I was invited there for a concert at the military unit. Well, there were some officers who had called their wives to arrive to join them. It happened when Warsaw was being occupied. Polish women then had silk combination night gowns with covered sleeves, and floor length hems. Our women thought that those were evening gowns and all three dressed up in those combinations and came to the concert. What does this illustrate? That the Soviet women used to dress up very unpretentiously in some calico smocks, plain panties and socks. Also I was impressed with the furniture in the apartments, gas heating stove, ovens and the cleanliness of the streets in the foreign lands...
- What were the farthest distances you had to walk for reconnaissance?
- Here (in Stalingrad) I did not have to go any further than Marinovka. The Germans controlled everything and everywhere, and passes were required.
- How did you hear about the Victory?
- We had anticipated that it would come soon. Since I was in the agency, we received all information sooner than the others. I was aware of the overall situation better than battalion commanders or even regimental commanders. We were given summary reports and orientations. When I learned about the victory I was not in the office, but on a business trip. We certainly did some drinking. Other people were still not aware and did not have any idea but we were specifically informed.
When I was returned here in 1943, land mine sweeping in the city began, because plenty of them were still here on the ground. Both, the Soviets and the Germans used to sow them in houses, in streets and alleys. Therefore, all who had been in reconnaissance here and were available were gathered. We travelled all the time, they asked, and I showed them where the Germans had been active here or there, and those locations were particularly well checked and searched. There was a lot of work. Many our people got killed by tripping the mines.
During the Yalta Conference I was there too and took part in some events providing security. My participation there was also as follows. I was in contact with foreign delegations. I had a chance to meet and talk with Enver Hoxha , met and had a chat with Josip Broz Tito three times. Churchill's wife was here in 1943, and with her came the first ambulances. When the clinic here was just being established she brought them. We were usually introduced to the foreigners as heroes and banquets were made for them and for us as well. Even though we were just agency servicemen, food was distributed for us against the ration cards. But at those banquettes sausages and sardines were served. And I must say that during the war people had closer relationships. Talking about Churchill, whatever antipathy he had toward Stalin, he still praised him up to the end, even when he was dying. Everybody acknowledged that Stalin was a very sharp witted and strong headed person for his time. I had to meet with our leaders also. I did not meet with Stalin, I just saw him, but I met and talked with Lavrentiy Beria three times.
- What kind of impression did you have of him (Beria)?
- It is difficult to judge. Whatever his wrongdoings might have been, we have to realize that he was a very efficient manager and did a lot of good as well. It was under the direct supervision of Beria in such difficult times that the Volga-Don Canal was built, the nuclear industry was organized and our intelligence performed very effectively. One thing I do know about him for sure. The rumors circulated that he was not indifferent toward women and that he allegedly took advantage of his official position in this respect.
- Have you seen any true to life movies about the intelligence?
- I liked the series "Seventeen Moments of Spring" - there were some particular points – there was one main character, but in fact his features were taken from many real prototypes; a little bit of everything from each. Our agents truly operated in German organizations. Our agents were in their command and in their general staff. A lot of guys.
Interview and literary work by:
Translation review by:
|Charles G. Powers|