Sherstnev Alexander Ivanovitch

The war reached me when I worked on the Gromov Plant in Solnetshnogorsk. When the Germans were approaching Moscow I was included in the plant's fighter battalion. We got training on the course «A Shot» where obtained all the skills of diversionary. At the end of September 1941 some representatives from Moscow arrived at the plant. They selected 6 men: Nikolay Egorytschev, Nikolay Losev, some other guys and me. That's how we got into the special diversionary- intelligence school of NKVD (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs) in Moscow region. As soon as drill began we understood that we were trained for diversions in Germans' home front. And actually in November our detachment of 35 men under the command of the former frontier guard junior lieutenant Rybnikov was sent to the home front of the enemy in Lotoshinsky region. We have not done much: have mined the main road and fired on the German autocade from the ambush. After that we returned to the installation in Moscow. We remained there about 10 days. And then again a campaign. Our detachment was led now by another commander – U.D. Milovsorov, this time to Kaluga region.

When we got nearer to the front the road seemed more difficult. After Maloyaroslavets carts carrying the wounded were seen oftener. Suddenly enemy aircraft appeared. We could see how fiery blasts shot up from under the wings. Having turned around the aircraft again fired and bombed us. They injured legs of one of our soldier and we had to send him to a hospital with a passing vehicle.

When we reached the point Milovsorov communicated with the army reconnaissance to get information where we could cross the front line. To define the situation more precisely it was decided to carry out reconnaissance once again. The task undertook five persons – three army soldiers and two persons of our detachment. Having crossed the trench and passed 300 meters of a low forest «neutral line» we got to the edge of the forest and started climbing an elevation all covered with big firs. The wind swung the tops of the trees covering us with a biting snow. Having climbed to the top we scrutinized the area ahead through the trees. On the right below, ahead of us there was a birch grove with almost every birch broken as if a tornado had swept through the place. Actually, Fascists were constantly shooting the grove through mortars. The scouts showed us a mine-strewn ravine on the opposite side of which there were German stands. Hardly had we had a look around and ascertained a way not to run upon mines when we were suddenly fired with a mortar. A few mines exploded very near. We rolled down to some hole but no one was wounded. Evidently somewhere a sharpshooter was hidden and directed the fire.

The commander decided to cross the front line on the right of the birch grove. About two o'clock in the morning our detachment appeared on the neutral line on skis. Now and then the Germans threw lighting rockets holding the place in sight. Sixty years has passed but I still hear the clap of a rocket projector and see the illuminated clearing. We fell down and lay, but as soon as the light went out, got up without any order and advanced to the forest. Another rocket went in the air and we were again pressed to the snowy ground in our camouflage cloak. It was frosty, more than 30 degrees below zero, but we sweated and knew the rescue was in the forest, which would shelter us. A short move and we lay again. We were detected by the ski track and fired with machine-gun and mortar. The gleam of the explosions was seen through closed eyes, so near they were. Masha Konkova, our nurse, bandaged the first then two more injured. The last dash, the last bow to the mines and we were finally in the wood. The mortar shooting stopped. We listened close. Everything was quiet except for the wind sweeping our traces. We moved further and further to the enemy's home front.

The detachment, with occasional change of a leading scout forming a ski-track in the snowy unbroken expanse, went in the wood for more than two hours carrying weapon, explosive and food – dry rations intended for a two month stay in the enemy's home front. Sometimes we stopped to secure that we followed the root in the right direction. During these short stops, we could for a moment ease our hands taking the ski sticks under the armpits and take a nap. We walked around settlements not to endanger either ourselves or the locals.

At dawn we finally got to the intended region, mined the main road and laid an ambush. The frost got severer, our hands were almost frozen. Suddenly we heard the roar of approaching enemy cars and opened fire. We killed four Fascist, took the staff papers out of a passenger car and retreated. Soon motorcycles hurried to the assault place and opened a random fire at the forest. When we were ready to fall back our comrade Vanya Ochotnikov came and shouted that Germans were on the opening. We lay down and opened a fire. They did not expect to meet Russians there and that was the deciding factor. We destroyed more than thirty Fascists, blew up six freight and staff cars, obtained important data and moved further to the home front.

The scouts have detected that some Russian encircled soldiers were kept in some village for about two weeks already. I do not remember its name but remember that it was situated on the steep bank of the rive Urra. We entered the village at dawn and had hardly settled ourselves to rest when there was a burst of sub-machine guns fire. Through the windows of a house standing on the slope we could see the frozen river and Fascist crossing it who were shooting on their move. In rushes, having taken our skis, food sacks, weapon and exchanging the fire we retreated to the wood with the encircled soldiers. The Germans pursued us to the edge of the wood.

And again we were deprived of a rest in a warm place and had to eat cold and dry food. In 24 hours, as it had been planned, we joined the troop under the commandership of Babkin V.N. and made our way toward the villages Togropets and Uspenskoye.

Every day the situation with food got worse. But the wounded were the primary concern: they needed treatment and rest. But we could leave them nowhere. We had to return. Suddenly we came to a wood road and there were several carriages moving towards us on it. Who was in them, our people or the Germans, we did not know. It was impossible to make out in the dark. Someone, standing ahead near the road called: «Stop! Who is going?» the answer was a burst of sub-machine gun fire. A fight, short but fierce, began. No German escaped. But we also had losses on our part. Nicolay Egorytchev died. Babkin, Solovyov, Avdyunin were heavily wounded. Solovyov was standing leaning on the ski sticks. «What's wrong with you?» «Wounded in the stomach», - he answered. While bandaging him, - the wound was under the ribs to the right, - I stretched the skin and felt the bullet in his back with my hand, it got stuck. The nurse Masha Konkova had stayed behind the front line with the wounded soldiers that's why we bandaged on our own as we could. We unharnessed the horse taken away from the Germans, seated Babkin on it and the rest carried in the hand.

We went almost without stops, made haste to return to our people. In 200 meters ahead on the right and left small fires were glowing, those were German weapon emplacements and further after them one could see the end of the woodland, the edge of the wood and a field. We were ordered to get the shells ready. Milovsorov led the detachment right to the dugout at the fire. But then suddenly, when there were 30 or 50 meters left, he turned abruptly aside and led us between the dugouts. «That's it, - we thought, - we've got into a mess». Germans wrapped in blankets were seating at the fires. We evened with them, then got to the edge, went further very quietly. Did they think we were their people? I still do not know. Prudent and sportsmanlike was our commander!

We came to where our people stayed on the second day. On the outskirts of the village our look-outs were stopped by a shout: «Stop, who is moving?» «One's own people, - the guys could not restrain themselves, - the detachment goes out of the German front, we carry the wounded and dispatches». We were glad, could have showered the sentry man with kisses. It turned out that we found ourselves on the emplacements of an artillery unit. The gunners had edged the emplacements with snow balls so that they could not be seen from the outside, especially at night.

The wounded were delivered to the medical and sanitary battalion. In the unit headquarters our commander took off his quilted jacket, ripped off the lining, took out the certificate typed on a silk cloth and presented it to the command. They fed us – gave us soft bread, tea and that all seemed so delicious to us after those stale bread pieces and canned food we had had to eat. After several days we arrived to our base in Moscow.

Translated by:M. Kuzjutina


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