- I was drafted in October 1941 from the 10th grade in the days of widespread ruin, robbery, and panic in Moscow. I was drafted despite having my seventeenth birthday just recently. Probably so that a potential soldier wouldn't be left to the Germans.
For about a week I walked as a member of a crew formed at the military commisariat to Il'ino-Zorino, in the Gorkiy oblast. Huge organizing camps were located there. They lodged us in a somewhat semi-dugout shelter for 300-400 men. I was sent to the courses for junior commanders. We went to dig some trenches. They were making us into section commanders, which meant a certain death. Representatives from other branches of military service regularly came to this camp. They selected and took away people who fit with their education. My unfinished 10 grades were considered a very high level of education in those times, so I was claimed. First they brought me to a Guards mortar unit. I was rejected there and sent back because I said that my father had been arrested. Then I went to yet another unit. Again I told them of my father's arrest - I was an honest man, but I should've lied - which I did the third time, when they came to recruit people to become signallers. I decided: "What should I say? I'll say that my father's in evacuation. Who will sort it out?" That's what happened. In February 1942 I finally got to the front, prior to that having nevertheless finished Gorkiy School for radio operators. I was lucky again: I became a signaller in Zapoliarye on the Kandalaksha direction in the 77th Separate Rifle Naval Brigade. Accordingly, our unit consisted of sailors. They were different in that for every normal Russian word they used five curse words. I could speak so myself, but such plentiful, household, normal, natural cursing flew off their tongues - it was amazing to me. Besides that, they constantly unbuttoned their collars so that their striped shirts could be seen, and also tattoos - not criminal, but patriotic: Stalin's profile or a sailor's cap. Germans, not Finns, stood opposite us; SS Nord Division, large, well built, well equipped men. In the summer of 1941 they advanced 150 kilometers from the border, but 70 km from Kandalaksha they were halted, and from the fall of 1941 to the summer of 1944 no active military engagements were carried out in our sector of the front. The frontline was stable for almost two and a half years, we even dug trenches, although the only way to break the frozen ground was with a hack or a crow bar. Our flanks were unoccupied - lakes, bogs. Did you see the film "A zori zdes' tikhiye"? Good picture. Well, they show the same environment in it. Uninhabited. Taking into account our exposed flanks and our love of fighting in winter time, just when bogs and lakes froze, various recon-diversionary operations were launched behind enemy lines.
2-3 platoons were assembled, that is 60-90 men, me with a radio transmitter, and we walked around in the German rear. We walked on skis, sometimes we took deer with us which we used to transport ammunition and wounded. We never took dogs - they bark, the bastards. On top of that, we went rather far, to Rovaniemi itself (approx. 200-250 km. - Artem Drabkin), and in such days when no German would ever fight. For example, the New Year in '43 and '44 I greeted behind enemy lines. We set out around December 20, so that in time for Christmas we would be deep in the enemy rear. What German would fight on Christams? But Russians will. There it is - Russian insidiousness! We attacked German garrisons and strong point, mined roads. We always commesurated our forces, that's why abortions happened frequently - intelligence was rarely reliable: It could turn out that a strong point wouldn't be as simple as reconnaissance reported, or a garrison would turn out to be 200 men instead of 50. Those were very difficult marches: it was cold, and scary, and hard. Just try to survive for almost three weeks in a 20-30 degree frost! That's right! Although, we were pretty well dressed: valenki (felt boots), quilted pants, winter camouflage coverall, then padded jacket, uniform, warm flannelette underwear, and yet under it regular linen underwear. They gave us vodka and fed 100 grams of bread per day per man. We had American canned meat. Tasty bitch! A large can, there was pork fat inside, which you could spread on top of a slice of bread, and in the middle - a piece of meat the size of a fist. All in all, we didn't starve... salo, dried bread. We even had oil lamps, of the so-called "push-press" variety. It was a small tin, like for preserves, which contained stearin diluted with alcohol. If you ignite this mixture, it burns with a colorless flame. You could warm food or boil water.
But why would you burn alcohol - you should drink it! That's why we dragged a rag through it and wrung it out - you could get maybe 50 grams of alcohol, and since we got several of these tins, you could drink a decent amount, although it was of course disgusting, but the remaining candle wax also burns. For weapons, we took submachine guns and grenades into these raids, sometimes one or two Degtiarev machineguns. In 1942 we still had Mosin rifles - that, of course, is an inconvenient thing, and then they gave us PPSh's. There weren't any airdrops or help from the "big land". In general, we hauled everything on our backs: submachine gun, knapsack, radio. Our radio transmitter was American manufactured V-100, with a receive/transmit unit, like a TV of an average size. In receive mode it worked from a BAS-80 battery, which gave 80 V, but for transmit it required additional energy, that's why the so-called "soldier-motor" went with it: a collapsible tripod with pedals, which were supposed to be spun by hands. It was more powerful than our domestic ones, and since we usually went far, we carried it with us. We went on air rarely: there was the fear that we'd be detected. In general, a radio operator's lot was pretty strange: you'd be by yourself all the time. The superiors drove the radio operators to hell out of fear to be detected and plastered by enemy artillery, and at the same time they couldn't do without us, that's why we were always somewhere to the side, in some dug-out, a ditch, a shell crater; you crawl inside and sit there so that you'd always be on call, but you go on air only in an extreme case. Messages brought to us were already encoded as columns of five-digit numbers, so, of course, I didn't know their content.
10th Guards Rifle Division 31st Ski Brigade, 25.11.42 Karelian front
Most of all I remember the winter of '43/'44. That was our most bloody operation. There were 80-90 of us, and we lost 30-40, that is for everyone of us there was another one wounded or killed. That's also when a tragical event occurred. Two brothers served in our unit, and during a fight for a pillbox one of the brothers broke through inside, but the other one, not having noticed that, threw in a grenade and killed him. He grieved so much, so much... Wanted to shoot himself. Just then we received Stalin's order - killed, more so wounded, were not to be left, had to be brought back. We dragged them on "volokushas" - a small plywood boat with a cord. That time I hauled a wounded sailor. All in all, it wasn't hard, but trip was more than one dozen kilometers, plus I had the radio transmitter, a submachine gun, the knapsack I put at his feet... and it wasn't a highway - a hundred times I spilled him on all the hummocks and put him back again. This sailor, I still don't know what his name was, was wounded in the chest, and although I bandaged him, the blood still flowed. What could I do? We did not take a nurse with us. From time to time regaining consciousness, he begged: "Brother, shoot me, shoot me, brother..." I nevertheless did bring him back, but he died right away. On top of that, on the approaches to the frontline, we had to get in touch with HQ. The commander, Major Karasev, a severe man, ordered us to set up the radio transmitter, and my partner stuck an 80 V battery into the filament, where it was 2.5 V! Obviously, the tubes all burned out, so it did transmit, but we couldn't receive anymore. The commander screams: "I'll shoot you, scumbags!" Of course, he didn't shoot us, but we didn't get any decorations either. And another time, after returning, we pulled over a bread truck, we were so hungry. Criminal proceedings against all of us were started, and although they managed to hush it up, we were left without decorations again. In general, I wasn't lucky when it came to decorations. In '45 I saved my platoon commander who almost drowned during river crossig, and for saving a commander you were due an award - they didn't give it to me again. Well, I do have an Order of the Red Star, a medal "For Bravery", but not a whole lot... Anyway, a private was not supposed to have many.
Sometimes we brought prisoners. We tried not to take many: there'd be too much bother from them. Of course, preferably, officers, there isn't much use from lower ranks as "tongues". The prisoners walked with us on skis and even dragged the wounded. German skis were more comfortable. Ours - valenki and soft leather bindings, theirs had "persians", that is, warm boots with the tip bent upward, which was put under a clamp in the skis. When we returned, motor or dog sleds were sent after us, which carried away the prisoners for interrogation, and the wounded - to the hospital. Our fatigue was boundless, monstrous fatigue, monstrous... But we were lucky: we were not the only ones to go out. I heard that some had walked into ambushes, and some had been captured by the Finns, and the Finns were malicious. So I got such a gift from fate, than no one ever gave me and will not anymore - I'm ALIVE. But I might've died, and not just once.
In the summer everything stood still: neither we, nor Germans fought. Our radio transmitter was at the very top of a hill, maybe 300 meters from the frontline, camouflaged among the several trees growing there. Well, the month was July, heat, we undressed and were sunbathing. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a “Focke-Wulf”! He shot a burst at us, then circled and shot another, then started chasing after us. He flew low, 10-15 meters, we could see the pilot laughing, and we, unarmed, buck naked, were running around the green glade. He missed, but it was scary. But otherwise it was boring. Many asked to be transfered to other sectors of the front, but usually in vain: "Sit tight. There's war here also. The Motherland demands you to be where you've been told." Constant fires really got us because both sides were dropping incendiary bombs to burn down the woods. Since there was no war, they made soldiers do something. In particular, we picked berries for hospitals: cloudberry, cranberry, bilberry, currant. A day's norm - turn in a full mess tin to the kitchen. Well, we also set up ourselves: built a saw mill, made dug-outs, built a club for 200 people. There we had performers and watched movies. Held some sporting competitions. Sometimes a store drove in, where for those peanuts we were paid we could buy toothpaste powder, cologne, envelopes for letters. Also had affairs with signaller girls, or censor women from the field post office. Prettier and more literate girls were employed there.
In 1944, when an offensive was being prepared, new, mostly artillery, units started arriving. They were required for breaking through the defenses the enemy built up over the past two and a half years. That's when I saw "Katiushas" for the first time, but I was more amazed by “Andryushas” with their shells resembling tadpoles in shape, packed in wooden crates so that they could be rolled. And then an order came out that anything moving behind enemy lines was to be destroyed, down to dogs. This was in the summer, and scouts noticed naked chicks swimming in a lake and sunbathing, probably a brothel had come to the SS soldiers (where else would girls come from in these backwoods?), so they were plastered with a "Katiusha" salvo. Now I think it was barbarous, but then it was the normal order of business - we laughed about it and that's that. We were all so disposed. Posters depicting a man looking at you and asking: "Have you killed a German?" hanged everywhere. Or, a Slavic type sitting down and holding up three spent cartridges in his palm, and a verse below: "How can he not be proud: three bullets and three dead Fritzes!" Such was the atmosphere, but we didn't have a single soldier who hadn't suffered from the war, hadn't had relatives who died or under occupation.
The offensive began in the summer of 1944 and we almost reached Rovaniemi. We weren't in the first file, but dragged ouselves with radios 200-300 meters behind infantry. That is, even if you do get killed, then only stupidly - no one even aimed at you. Just at that time, we, radio operators, were very much needed, because in the absence of wire communications all coordination of the forces was done through radio. Besides that, I got a promotion, became a sergeant major and the commander of a radio transmitter, two men were under my command.
In December of 1944 our regiment was transferred to Vologda for rest, rearmament, and replacement. We received new radios. With the help of vodka I exchanged my PPSh for a PPS with a folding stock; it pulled to one side during firing, but it was light and had a box magazine. We were due 75 grams of alcohol per day for each man, but since we were at the radio transmitter, to the side, they gave us for 10 days at once - 750 gramms, you could get seriously drunk. There was trade on the basis of this: I gave a flask of alcohol to the Sergeant Major, and he exchanged my submachine gun. Such was the barter. Same to get boots or a greatcoat of Canadian blue cloth (it was very valuable since, unlike our domestic ones, it was pure wool)... A lot of temptations exist in the army, but you have to pay for them one way or another. And then the second part of my war began.
In January we were transfered to the Western Direction. We detrained in Eastern Poland, in the town of Ostrow-Mazovetski, and became a part of the First Belorussian Front under the command of Rokossovskiy. But just as we arrived, the front split. Rokossovkiy was appointed to command the Second Belorussian, and Zhukov became the commander of the First Belorussian. They subordinated us to the Second Belorussian Front. We caught up with the Front already in Pomerania. Pomerania is a granary, the most agricultural part of Germany, there were a lot of potatoes and even more alcohol. That's where an event, occurred which I described in a short story published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. At Koslin (Koszalin)* we reached the sea, then turned east, almost approached Gdynia, then turned back and came to Swinemunde (Swinoujscie). I already served at the regiment radio transmitter, installed on a “Studebaker US6x6”, "sudar'", as we called it. The radio was American, SCR-399 with an engine, located in a trailer, and a shelter.
Radiostation SCR-399. Autumn 1945.
The truck, by the way, came with a set of driver's instruments and a leather coat for the driver. If you saw how at the front all our superiors paraded dressed in leather coats, those were the ones taken out of the set which came with American Studebakers. Unexpectedly in the evening of May 9 we were called up to Kolberg (Kolobrzeg) and ordered to load on a barge. They said we were to be some kind of a landing force. The barge was maybe six meters wide, we tied our Studebaker on the deck, and loaded the horses and guns into the opened hold. As soon as it got dark, we set out sailing somewhere. No, get this - infantry at sea! We were throwing up badly! And on top of that, one of the cables that held our truck burst. Well, we're thinking, if our Studebaker falls now, we all get court martialed. There was one sailor among us, a radio operator Arkashka Kucheriavyi from Leningrad. He crawled along the narrow side between the sea and the hold, found a chain, and we wrapped the truck around with it. In the morning we saw the coast, and here they told us: "Denmark. Bornholm". As we were approaching the port, about six in the morning, we heard shooting, but while a tug was dragging us in, the shooting stopped, and we disemabarked in complete calm. Then it turned out that there had been 18 thousand Germans on the island and after having resisted for a while, they quickly saw reason and surrendered. Pulled in the walkways, drove out, and I saw civilian life. Right at the port there was a sign "Cafe", me and a buddy rushed in there, and saw Danes sitting inside eating ice cream. We also decided to to buy some, took out the money (we were given German marks), but the vendor jumped away from us like devil from incense, saying something like "Nicht, Nicht" - meaning, wrong kind of money. We left emptyhanded. That same day we found out that the war was over. I turned on the radio receiver, tuned to Moscow, and they already were making victory announcements there. In that sense radio operators had it made: you could listen to music or news; although, we were supposed to be on the same frequency all the time, to be ready for incoming communications. I was even called up in front of a party meeting because I tuned to music while on duty. We were on duty in twos, that was demanded by SMERSH: what if you make contact with the enemy? And this way you're under control. In those times you had to constantly beware denunciations.
Sergeant Major Yu. Koriakin, Graiforberg 1945 May 9
The war was over, but we spent another 2 months in that vacation spot. Unfortunately, they had prohibition there, but we swapped gas, wires, bulbs, batteries for cologne. On June 14 I had my birthday. The guys say: "You owe us. Organize something tasty, we're sick of this field kitchen food." What to think of? Right, we live by the sea. Now, you could catch some fish, but there aren't any nets, therefore - stun it. We had flashlight batteries. They were valuable because everybody, soldiers and officers, carried flashlights, but according to TO&E, only we were supposed to have them. I swapped several batteries for a pile of anti-personnel mines and one anti-tank mine, and then my partner and I went to the sea, and for a roll of army wire we got a boat from a Dane. We loaded the mines and fuses in it and started "fishing" half a kilometer from the shore - stick the fuse in, ingite it, and that's it. As for the fish, half an hour, and we had half the boat full! We return. A patrol with submachine guns in front meets us: "Get out!" And the Dane next to them. He sold us out! "Forward march!" Sergeant major leads us to HQ, swearing: "Look at that," he says - "they got a new trend, stunning the fish! You're fucking tearing nets. The fishermen complain to the commander! We get to HQ, we'll show you!" I don't think they would've made us stand trial, but we could get a reprimand or be confined to detention. They had already started cleaning up - put up notices everywhere and conducted meetings on how to behave with the local population. I tell the sergeant major: "Come on, big deal about stunning the fish, it was my birthday! Let's swap without looking: you give us freedom, and I give you a Finnish knife." I had a pretty Finnish knife with a composite handle. He says: "And the Dane won't turn us in?" "Why? He got our fish." "All right" - he says - "give me the knife and get out of here." Well, we got back to the crew, told our story, and the guys say: "To hell with it, the fish food, but go get us some booze."
Our platoon. Bornkholm, June 1945
The next day, after getting off duty, I grabbed binoculars and went to a drugstore to try to exchange it for cologne. Found a drugstore in Ronne. I enter, holding the binoculars in one hand and with the other I make this gesture: smell the palm and rub it over my hair, and do this several times meaning that I need a hair cologne. The drugstore keeper says: "Ja, Ja", - nods, it seems he understood. I give him the 12x binoculars, manufactured by Zeiss, trophy! Great stuff! Beautiful! And he brings a large bottle. I looked at it, smelled it - nice aroma. Well, I'm thinking, it must be cologne. But the glass was dark, couldn't see anything, the cork was scratched. Hauled it back. We poured full glasses, drank for my health, and everybody's eyes popped out - brilliantine for the hair! This Arkashka Kucheriavyi, who saved us with the truck back then, says: "What did you bring, moron? This is brilliantine, it's made with castor oil. We'll get the shits farther than eyesight from it!" Well, I take my submachine gun and the leftovers in the bottle, and go back to the drugstore. I'm trying to get reimbursed, but he's going: "Nicht, Nicht". I got mad, grabbed the gun. He gets out from behind the counter, huge, bigger than me, grabs my arm and drags me to the wall. And on the wall hangs a poster in two languages with a picture of our island's commander, Major General Korotkov. I read the address to the citizens of the Bornholm island that our troops have arrived, liberated you from the Germans, and our task is to secure you a calm life. Immediately report to HQ all cases of undisciplined behavior on the part of the servicemen of the Soviet Army. The Dane stuck my face into this order. Basically, like a beaten dog I dragged myself home with the bottle. Turned around - no one's there. Then I slammed the bottle against the wall, and bad luck again - I got all splattered. Overall, I was left a fool all around, but I still remember this. In the August we started out to fight the Japanese, but didn't get there. That's how the war ended for me. I served for two more years and then went on to MIFI (Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute). No one ever got interested in my father, I even joined the party. Would they have let me, a son of an enemy of the people, go behind enemy lines?
* City names are given as of 1945 when possible. In case the name changed, the modern name is given in parantheses in the original transcription.
|Translated by:||Oleg Sheremet|
|Photos from the archive of Yu. I. Koriakin and Karelian Front veterans board|
I received your postcard and I'm very happy that you're at home, because I thought that you got drafted. It turns out that that's where you've been, and with whom, that's deft, you have to be a master to attach yourself to Voyentorg (a network of shops in the army - trans.) like that. The Voyentorg sometimes also comes to us, they sell that, what's its name, chocolate for drinking, rolls, sometimes sushki, bubliki, baranki (Russian pastries - trans.). Describe this in more detail in the next letter. You ask how I live, I already wrote about this to Aunt Tonya, get the letter from her and read it, but for you I'll write in some more detail. I didn't write about this to Mom and Aunt Tonya; to Mom, because she would start crying, and to Aunt Tonya because she'd tell Mom, and the result would be the same. The thing is that not long ago I was sent on a mission with a small portable radio, obviously not alone, but with a group of soldiers, and on the way we got into a mess, my whole satchel is full of holes, it's a miracle I wasn't hit, I was about to say good-bye to life, although what happens to novices, as Erich Maria Remarque writes, didn't happen to me. They were plastering us with mortars, a fragment hit a notebook and got stuck there. Now they replaced my satchel with a knapsack.
But my mother thinks that since I am a radio operator I'll be sitting in some headquarters, but that's not always the case because now they always go into reconnaissance with radios, what for? - It's obvious. Basically, let her opinion remain the same. It is very probable that I'll go on another mission soon. Our main workplace is 10-15 km from the front line, sometimes you stand on guard and if the weather is quiet you can hear machine guns, but artillery can be heard well day and night.
I saw captured Germans - two of them (we've got Germans, not Finns, in our sector), there is nothing special about one of them, but the other is a portrait of you, tall, skinny, with a pointed nose. Back then it was still cold in these parts, so they gave him large fur gloves, he put them on and said: "oh, gut, gut", and didn't want to return them, devil, clasped them to himself and that's it, but he used to wear little children's gloves, the scumbag stole them somewhere. His boots are size 50, no less, with wooden soles, and he shook in his tunic. We gave them a smoked fish, and they gobbled it up bones and all, the hungry devils.
The guys in our team are cool, there is one who was also in combat, the battalion in which he served was completely destroyed, only 21 men left, including him with a radio set, and for several days he dragged the radio and managed to bring it back safely, although it's not light, designed for two. For saving military equipment he was recommended for a decoration. Well, I'll wrap up. Write to me about how you live, how you spend your time.
YuraK 22.08.42 (August 22, 1942)
P.S. What kind of an address did you write?! Some 1140th p/y.
Sometimes just 114-O.P.S. (Separate Signals Regiment)
389 Field Post Office
114 Signals Regiment Radio Company**
Comments by Yuri Koriakin
* My cousin, Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Gusev, enrolled in the Physics department at the Moscow State University in 1941, then was drafted into the army and spent several months at the front near Voronezh, but then he was discharged since he had an ulcer of the duodenum, and continued his studies at the university.
** I served in the 114th Separate Signals Regiment, which was directly subordinated to the HQ of the 19th Army. This regiment serviced all radio communications of the army. Mobile sets like SRC-399 were used to communicate with the front HQ or Moscow, and the lower levels were serviced flexibly. The service men of the regiment, of which I was a part, were regularly drafted when conducting various reconnaissance and diversionary operations behind enemy lines to provide communications.
First of all, treat the pieces of paper I write on with respect. They went through combat, I was saving them, but then a crisis with paper occurred and I decided to use them. There is a trace of a German shell fragment on the bottom.*
I received your letter from September 25th. Many thanks to you that you regularly respond to my letters.
I'm writing to you, Shurka, in a most disgusting mood. I already wrote you that my life is ... and I [cannot] remain in this condition ... for long, sitting in one spot, somewhere God knows where, when at the same time great events happen around us. But then, it also concerns the fairer sex.
The thing is that throughout my short life I avoided girls and didn't have any intimate relationships with them. But right before the war I started paying attention to one very nice girl in my school. No, I wasn't in love with her, ... (erased by the author) I simply liked her a lot as a girl who was a good student, well developed, and, well, not bad looking. She also treated me well, and I, in turn, helped her compose essays, helped solve math problems. Basically, our relationship was very nice, Soviet, and, believe me, I didn't have any crude intentions toward her.
And so, when I was taken into the army, at first she replied to me, wrote letters, but since some time ago, maybe a month or more, ... letter to me, and since then ... [neither] a word nor a phrase. I sent her several [let]ters, it can't be that she didn't receive them, but she's not responding. Because of this I got into that disgusting mood. This might seem characterless because at the times of such great events that we're living through, it's wrong to pay attention to business like mine, but still, it spoils my mood a lot, because she treated me like shit, the slut, oh well - fuck her, I'll survive without her. All this made me think that I need to do something, not just sit in one place. And so, I decided. To hell with these monster machines of the radio station! I want to serve in a recon detachment with a small radio, especially since. I do have some experience, so I put in a request to the superiors, in which I directly said that despite it being the second year of the war, I cannot completely answer the question: "What have you done for the destruction of German occupiers?", and asked to be sent to the frontline, especially since there are rumors that they want to dispatch several men as radio operators to partisan bands. That's where the life is! In short, I will certainly write about how things develop further.
Well, it's time to wrap up. Write me, I'm waiting. Maybe there will still be time to receive your reply. Oh yeah, thanks for the envelope, I'll save it until the rainy day. Yurka 03.10.42 (October 10, 1942)
Excuse my handwriting. It's a horrible pen, but I don't have anything better.
Comments by Yuri Koriakin
* I don't remember the episode with this shelling at all. I only remember that the satchel was all shredded, but there wasn't a scratch on me. Well, since there were constant problems with paper at the front, I had to use these sheets.
Only now I've found a free moment to write you a letter. I'll describe my impressions from the road. How and what is happening with us you obviously know, and in connection with that we're advancing westward. We're moving along one railroad and a highway leading west. And all living concentrates around these same roads. There was some population around the local stations before the war, now there's no one left. Since Germans, and not Finns, are in front of us, we're advancing with combat against the German 20th Army. It's obvious that the Germans are trying to mess everything up as much as possible. With purely German precision the rails are blown up in checkered order every 10-15 meters. All sorts of bridges, telegraph poles, highways, houses, everything is blown up. Overall, it's a cheerless picture. Wires hanging from leaning poles, cinders in place of stations and villages, burned woods. But what is most unpleasant of all, what literally terrorizes everyone, is mines. Mines are everywhere and all over roads and trails, on the roadsides and under bridges, in the houses and in the streets. There aren't enough sappers, and it's impossible to search everything anyway. There are a lot of tempting things left in the houses, but it's scary to touch anything, but you know what kind of people soldiers are - "Damn all," - and grab stuff. We also found some grub for us signalers. Yesterday I found several cans of sprats in some house, with Norwegian labels. Nice stuff. By the way, the paper I'm writing on is also a trophy, there is a lot of it here.
Last night I almost paid with my life. A phone stopped working at my station, I went to check the line, walked around for a while, and found a break. The next day I went back for some reason and in the place where I stood, literally 30 cm, the sappers found a mine. I immediately got goose bumps. That was unpleasant. The Germans set infernal machines with a delay of several days. Today one acquaintance told me: They went to sleep in a house, he woke up during the night, lit a cigarette, just as he lied down again, he heard ticking of a clock. He started listening carefully - that's it. Immediately he was covered in cold sweat. You know - sleeping on an infernal machine is ... unpleasant. All the time, here or there, houses explode. Recently a huge warehouse exploded, left by the Germans and completely untouched.
There are a lot of prisoners. Yesterday I talked to one. He explained - "we're supposed to go home according to a treaty, but the 'Rus' don't let us." In most cases they are severely frightened, they are very afraid of Russian prison. One corporal said that the soldiers prefer death to surrender. They were really brainwashed, this scum, even if they look like good men.
My girls toil at the station. I have to do everything almost on my own. You know, they are inexperienced, don't know anything yet. Sometimes it's enough to make me cry, but what can you do? I'm waiting for better times.
I'm wrapping up for now. You see by my handwriting that I'm in a hurry. I am not receiving your letters and probably will not for a long time because I am far from my unit. I'm attached to one direction, but you keep writing. Sooner or later I'll get them. Bye. Your brother. Yu.K.
Say "hi" to Zoya. How is she?
23.9.44 (Sept 23, 1944)
I had just received your letter and immediately decided to write a reply. To tell you the truth, I don't believe your suppositions concerning our fate, not in regard to a long trip awaiting us, but about us not having to deal with Germans. I don't know if the fact that after the New Year they're going to change us to summer uniforms - take away valenki, sheepskin jackets, etc. - can serve as a proof of that. It's possible and logical to suspect that in Yugoslavia or beyond Vistula they are not needed. But all these are only suppositions and thoughts - a negative trait in a soldier. Almost always it happens not as you reckoned. In short: if we live - we'll find out. And life is not too bad. The grub is extremely presentable, conditions - not bad.
I started studying radio technology. You know, the more I deal with this thingie, the more I like it. Not a bad line of work, worth some attention and useful at that. What do you think? I have a favor to ask. If you can get any literature on electrical or radio technology, please send a package. You could get it in Moscow, but not here. Of course, when selecting aim for a student in a radio department of the Moscow Bauman Institute of Communications, and not a Master or Doctor in Physics and Mathematics. Approximately. And hopefully, not just a description of principal circuits, but practical calculations of various circuit details, etc. And just when I get money, I'll send it to you. Please.
As they say: "There's time for work, and an hour for play". So I use this hour for naughty things, as you would say. I'm sick. Sick of being a good boy all the time. I roam around visiting sluts (yes, yes, exactly that) and spend my free time in their company*, having one little vulgar thought in my mind, - how would I know, maybe they'll do me in somewhere, it would be a pity to die without having experienced certain things. I know it's trivial, but to hell with it. Please don't think that I'm loosing it, no. I feel rather sturdy. In this case we, four Sergeant Majors, instructors from the radio school**, behave like Paul Baumer and his friends. Remember their visits to cheap bars and making a drunkard of Tjaden?
A little about my friends. One of the four hasn't finished his 5th year at Rostov Railway Institute. Literate, well developed, intelligent lad. The second one - a civilian radio operator in the past, from the Far East Merchant Marine, the third is about the same - a teacher having just graduated from a pedagogical institute, Tatar by nationality, but a very well-read and literate man, and me. You know me.
The work at the school is interesting. I like it. The most important thing - it's beneficial for yourself. You prepare to teach your classes, and get something for yourself out of it, and you have to prepare well, otherwise you'll get into an awkward position. There are people with education better than mine among the students, so I can't just lie my way out if I don't know something. I'll wrap up for now. Until the next letter. Write me about how you celebrated the New Year. I'm sending a photo. The picture was taken here. I'm writing, by the way, on Norwegian paper, and sending the letter in a Kirkiness envelope. So - I shake your hand. Your Yu.K. 31.12.44 (December 31, 1944)
Comments by Yuri Koriakin
*Yes, well, but this is bravado. This is boyish bravado. So we drank a little, squeezed them. They were afraid and squealed. We could've raped them and nothing would've come of it, but when she screams, tries to tear loose, cries, I couldn't do it like that.
**In January '45 in Vologda, where our regiment was transferred, the army school for radio operators was organized. In those times my 9 grades of education were considered as not bad, because sometimes we got illiterate people, or those who'd seen a railroad for the first time. It's not an exaggeration - a commander escorting a group of such recruits told us that he was barely able to drive them into the train cars. Once we got some tangerines as a gift, but there were less of them than people in the squad, as so we organized a contest: for that, we were blindfolded, given a pair of scissors, and the tangerines were each hanging by a thread a meter away. You had to blindly cut the thread. So one guy from Buriatia cut one off and asks: "How are you supposed to eat it?". And the soldiers suggested him: "First eat the skin from the surface, and then, if you feel like it, you can eat what's inside." He bit it like an apple and said: "That's also tasty." That's how he ate it. So, I was a radio operator with a pretty impressive experience, that's why I was sent to this school as an instructor. That's where I lectured and conducted classes. The classes weren't long - 2-3 weeks.
Just as I received your letter, I immediately sat down to write a reply. In the previous letter that I received just now, I understood you perfectly, but ... I remain with my old opinion. It's not where you think. They did tell us that as we were leaving Kandalaksha, but now it seems to me that we're not going there, but in the opposite direction. Some of us have already left, and I leave tomorrow or the day after. Expect letters from the road. Then you'll see which one of us is right. If we could meet in person, I could tell you a lot of interesting stuff, but it's up to you. We travel in a cultured way in the railroad cars. We deploy the radio station. Turn on the receiver, plug in the speaker and the amplifier, and listen to concerts. Since we have a large accumulator holding, we always have electric lighting.
Concerning your moral admonitions, that is very valuable to me. I've never heard about these three commandments. I'll try to remember them and always take them into consideration. And they are surprisingly true. Only concerning the third point, I disagree somewhat. We break it all the time, otherwise in the majority of cases we don't get cheap pleasures. Because in every business there exists certain sequence and you cannot do without this stage, at least I always used it, it's very hard without it, almost impossible. And when you're doing that thing, all morals slip your mind and you know of only one goal, and all means are good to reach it. And I am not squeamish of any of them*.
We celebrated the New Year with my colleagues in the same company. We're not screwups, and became acquainted with girls who work in the cafeteria, and obviously we celebrated the New Year in a respectable manner. There were eight of us, and in one night we drank 7 liters of vodka and maybe 40 liters of beer. It's a sizable dose, but we managed it. Against my expectation, when I started drinking (you see, I didn't use to drink wine) I thought I would easily succumb to alcohol. After all, I didn't have any practice. But not so! I drink like an alcoholic and don't get drunk at all, at least no matter how much I drink I don't lose sense. Like into a barrel. Apparently, it's my healthy body. And then you have to take into account that only we guys drank, the four men. Girls almost didn't drink anything, so we lapped up a lot. But enough about that.
Today I decided not to go anywhere. I'm sitting here listening to the radio, writing, and thinking. What awaits me further on, after all I almost haven't really seen war yet. It won't be the same here - it'll be hotter and who knows... But I tend to think that fate protected me during the last three years, and so she won't abandon me now, and if not so - I won't be the first or the last, but for now I'm wrapping up. I will write from the road. Expect that.
Not long ago I had my picture taken, so I'm sending the photo. Expect the same from you. Whether you wish it or not, send it to me. Write to me. I'm waiting, although during the move, and it will last a while, I will not receive letters, only when I get there. Write!
Yu.K. 16.1.45 (Jan 16, 1945)
Comment by Yuri Koriakin
*I don't remember what this is about. It's probably connected to Remarque's book "All Quiet on the Western Front". Both he and I especially loved this novel, and I was under its strong influence. I even packed this book to the front, and I always carried it with me.
I'm still not getting any letters from you, which is probably explained by the fact that our field post office hasn't been deployed in the new spot yet. My general state is normal, it seems that I'm regaining my health, praise Allah. By the way, many are sick. Apparently, the change in climate is significant. Everybody's got a cold. Like now - there is such warmth outside that it's hard to imagine such in the beginning of February. Rain, running streams, and we're still wearing valenki (felt boots - trans.), can you image how we curse this. Not long ago we washed in a banya (Russian style bathhouse - trans.), or rather something like a banya. In the villages, Poles don't wash in banyas, they wash just to the waist in winter, and in the river in the summer (Jewish culture!!). And our banya - imagine a shed with huge holes where we put an iron stove and washed. You freeze like a dog, but you wash. In respect to grub, the things are not bad, we are well fed, besides we are resourceful. Recently our Slavic valor was presented with a case of American canned meat. Nice stuff. Soon I hope I start receiving letters.
Sincerely, Yu.K. 2.2.45
Hello dear brother!
Now we're very far. Somewhere in the Danzig corridor. Everything's alien here. and houses, with high Gothic roofs, and trees, some low and branchy, some tall with branches growing upwards, and streets paved with small tiles, straight and smooth with brick sidewalks at the edges, and the people - Poles - with whom, or rather, who, are not especially disposed to talking with us, and even the air is a somehow damp, foggy Baltic air. How many ruined cities there are. We drove through some completely destroyed towns, from which only ruins remained, or in the best case, houses, crooked and damaged, with traces of combat, with mess in the rooms, with books strewn around, and flower pots, and glassware, cloths, furniture - everything. In one such town we drank our fill of beer in a brewery. There aren't any civilians, or very little of them. Sometimes we happen upon completely undamaged towns, in one of these we are now located. Gestapo officers lived here in several buildings. If only you saw these rich apartments, clean, bright, with all conveniences. There are furnishings still left in the rooms, even grub, many books of various kinds. Lots of little volumes of Hitler's Mein Kampf, it would be interesting to read it, but I don't understand German too well. Various illustrated magazines, with pictures of Hitler in all views, poses, and positions, a lot of different literature, which I think I could read with pleasure.
We eat well. In the basements of these houses there is a multitude of vegetables, yesterday one soldier brought in a cow, and anyway, we have the right, or rather, are supposed to be supplied from the local resources, which is what we're doing. I am still not receiving letters from you or Mom. How is it with the thing I asked you about, and life in general? What's new in Moscow? Yu.K. 7.2.45 (Feb 7, 1945)
Hello dear brother,
It's nice to get a good letter from Moscow. You've embarked on a large undertaking, with the duodenum, watch that you don't miss. I have frightfully many news, can't possibly describe everything, and there's no time besides, I'll tell when I come back.
With each passing day we are moving deeper into Germany. I don't know exactly where I'm located, but it's somewhere near the Baltic coast, Stettin (Szczecin) is on our way and some other city closer to here.
There's almost no population left in the local towns and cities, but lots of goods. Chickens and geese, rabbits and goats, pigs and sheep, cows and horses amble around without owners. Cows moo, they have to be milked, but who needs them? And how many foods we eat - everything, starting with potatoes and ending with chocolate, coffee, and piglets. And how much stuff there is around. It can't be counted. Yes. The Germans were well off. Well, and those who remained get some, the German girls, and all the fraus, and men. We don't act considerately. Can't write everything. You've probably heard*.
But all that is rubbish. The main thing is work. Man, how much work there is. I haven't slept for 4 days already, and don't expect to. It's hard, Sashka, no time for trophies. All you do is take care of them until you arrive at the new destination and deploy, and are ordered to establish a connection. How many times I've fallen from roofs while putting up the antenna**, severely hurt elbow and side, haven't shaved for one and a half weeks, don't wash - basically, I've come to the limit. Believe me, even if it's hard, - no time to answer a call of nature, because you can't leave the radio station while exchanging messages. Did I manage to get stuck, I've never lived this way in all respects - although my mood isn't bad, it's interesting after all, and I do like my job.
Recently we drove past an alcohol plant, so the whole column stopped, there was some guards around, but we "removed" them (why, would they grudge us) and enjoyed life. It's good that I didn't drink a lot, I knew that I would have to work, otherwise I would've been screwed. Just try to operate a radio when there are devils running in your eyes. Well, honey, I'll wrap up. No time. Don't know when I'll write the next letter. Write to me. I'm waiting. Your brother. Yu.K. 3.3.45 (March 3, 1945)
Comments by Yuri Koriakin
*On a train on the road to Poland we were instructed on how to conduct ourselves with the local population. They said that the Poles were a friendly Slavic people that fought against the fascists. Asked that we hold up the honor of the Red Army. Promised to punish in cases of discipline violations. Although, this story happened to me. I'm sitting in my truck, messing with my radio. Suddenly there is a knock in the door. I open it, and there is an old Pole on the threshold, and he speaks something quickly in Polish, grabs my sleeve and pulls me after him. I only understood that something happened with his daughter. We come to his house which was nearby and I see that some tanker is trying to rape a girl, apparently the daughter of this Pole. I dragged him away, but he's completely drunk. A captain, with decorations all over his chest. Thank God, he came to. He says: "Sergeant Major, let's go to your place and have a drink." We went. He took out a flask. We poured. I drank and my eyes popped out - gasoline! I tell him: "What did you pour?!" He says: "Drink it, this is alcohol. You see, we drove by an alcohol plant, but didn't have anything to put the alcohol in. We had an almost empty tank, only a little diesel at the bottom, so we poured it there."
Before crossing the German border in the region of Bromberg (Bydgoszcz) the company politruk (political officer - trans.) came to a meeting and announced the following: "We are entering German territory. We know that Germans brought uncounted evils to our land, that is why we are entering their territory, to punish the Germans. I ask you not to make contact with the local population, so that you wouldn't have any troubles, and not to walk alone. Well, and concerning the woman question, you can treat the German women rather freely, but so it wouldn't look organized. 1-2 men can go, do what they need (that's exactly what he said: "what they need"), return, and that's all. Any kind of pointless damage to German men and women is inadmissible and will be punished." This conversation made us feel that he himself didn't know exactly what norms of behavior should've been followed. Of course, we were all under the influence of propaganda, which didn't differentiate Germans and Hitlerites in those times. That's why I know of a ton of cases when German women were raped, but not killed. Treatment of German women (we almost never saw men) was free, even vengeful. In our regiment the Sergeant Major of the supply company set up practically an entire harem. He had the capabilities in terms of food. So the German women lived with him, he used them, and also gave to others. A couple of times, when entering houses, I saw killed old people. Once, having entered a house, we saw that someone was lying on the bed. I pulled the blanket off and saw a woman with a bayonet in her chest. What happened? I don't know. We left without asking. But the picture completely changed after the Victory, when on May 12-14, an article by Academician Aleksandrov called "Ilya Erenburg Oversimplifies" was published in the Pravda newspaper. That's where it was declared that there are Germans, and then there are Hitlerites. That was the time of change, when peaceful reconstruction started. Then they started tightening the screws, punish practically every misdemeanor. Already at the Bornholm Island one sergeant took a watch off a Dane - just took it by force - and stripped the leather off sports equipment in a school for his boots. So he was sentenced to be shot, but Rokossovskiy (the front commander - trans.) didn't ratify the sentence.
There was another case when a soldier or a sergeant kissed or hugged a Danish woman, and some Dane saw it, called the commandant's office, and this soldier was immediately arrested and they wanted to court martial him for supposed rape. But when this girl found out that they want to try the guy, she herself ran to the commandant and said that the guy hadn't tried to rape her at all. Although, when in '95 the Danish government invited us to Bornholm to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the Victory, they said that after our troops left in '46 about 100 children born out of wedlock remained. Apparently, this concerned our officers who, unlike the soldiers, lived freely in private apartments.
**I had many radio sets which were used depending on the task at hand. For example, we had a small radio set "Sever" for communicating with the partisans. We also had V-100 and RP-6, the oldest and least used. And then we had our domestic RSB (Fast Bomber Radio) in several crates. According to the TO&E we had aluminum tubes in the set, for elongating the antenna, but until we settled in one spot, we just stuck the antenna higher, and that's all. "To trek" - understand, speak. The word that is not used anymore at all. Already in Germany, it was replaced by "fershtey" (from German "verstehen" - trans.)