Klavdia Kalugina

My name is Kalugina, Klavdiia Efremovna. Born in 1926. The war began when I was 15. I went to work at the "Respirator" munitions factory in Orekhovo-Zuevo. When the war started, we needed worker ration cards, which gave 700 g of bread. So I worked there, joined the Komsomol (Communist Union of Youth - trans.). On days off Komsomol members were required to attend classes for our secondary education. They were preparing us. Later, when we finished the secondary education, they said that a sniper school had opened. Many volunteered to attend it, and I also went there, being 17 years of age. That was in June 1943. I was the youngest at the school. Everyone was 18, and I was 17. They were thinking, should they turn me away or not? Decided that if I didn't fall behind, they would leave me at the school.

We started building a firing range. I wasn't from a rich family. I had chopped wood, and carried water, I was accustomed to such business, so I worked well. They let me stay, even gave me leave to visit home. When they started teaching us to shoot, but I couldn't do it. I would fire, and all I hit was "milk" (jargon term denoting a complete miss - trans.). Then Zinaida Andreevna Urantseva, our squad commander, started practicing with me individually. She taught me to shoot well. I graduated from the school, and those who graduated with good marks received American presents. My sniping partner was Marusia Chikhvintseva, from Izhevsk, Udmurtia. We were friends. And so they sent us, many girls, to the front on 1 March 1944.

A.D. That school had been formed in 1942?

Yes, the Komsomol TsK (Central Committee - trans.) organized that school. Uspenskaia submitted all our papers to the Komsomol TsK. The school chief was Kolchak, a Hero of the Soviet Union. Nikiforova was the political worker. All students were listed, and had notes below their names saying who lived with whom, personal data.

A.D. It looks like the program of studies took a little less than half a year, nine months?

Yes. Then we rode in cattle cars, with stoves. They couldn't get us all the way to the front, unloaded us. There was such a snowstorm, they gave us a truck to bring us closer to the front, to a reserve regiment. A truck! We carried it all the way on our backs, there was so much snow. So we got there. I don't remember how long it took, a day, two, three... It was a long time ago. They gave us camouflage coveralls. We wrapped bandages around our rifles. Early in the morning they fed us and gave us sandwiches to take with us: bread and American sausage. That was the entire dinner! And we went to the trenches. Everything was packed with snow, all communication trenches. We had to crawl. There were probably 12 of us, and Nadia Loginova (she would be wounded later) crawled toward the Germans to the no man's land, and the no man's land was mined. It was only the first day -- we were so afraid! We yelled loudly: "Nadia! Nadia! Here, here!" She returned and we continued on our way. We reached that trench, and it was all packed with snow. The snow had been falling for probably several days. Germans were out in the open clearing their trenches. You could probably kill even a dozen Germans on that day. But you see, killing a human being for the first time! We had different people, one was from the partisans -- Zina Gavrilova, another -- the secretary of our Komsomol organization -- Tania Fedorova. Marusia Chikhvintseva and I only watched. We just couldn't pull the trigger, it was hard. But others opened their count. And when we returned to our dug-out in the evening, started telling each other our experiences, Marusia and I couldn't say anything, and just kept reproaching ourselves throughout the night: "Cowards! Cowards! Why did we come to the front?" We were annoyed, why did they open their count, and we didn't? And so, the next day arrived. Germans had a breastwork and an embrasure for soldiers, and a table for a machine gun. So a German was clearing that machine gun emplacement. I fired. He fell, and was pulled back by his feet. It was my first German. Afterwards, both them and us cleared the snow during the nighttime. The snow melted quickly, then it became warm.

There was a lake in one place. Germans went there to wash, even in their underwear. So Zina Gavrilova fired, shot one. And Germans stopped going there to wash. We were already on the defensive, it was summer, June or May, and not everyone stood watch at her embrasure, because there was no movement among the Germans, or our movement either. We stood watches during the day, and soldiers watched during the nights, they slept in the daytime. And so Marusia and I placed our rifles at one embrasure and watched the German defenses from the breastwork. But the Germans also put a sniper to watch us. And so I was watching, observing during my shift (because the eyes would get tired), and Marusia said: "Let me take the watch now." She got up, it was a sunny day, and she apparently moved the lens. As soon as she got up, there was a shot, and she fell. Oh, how I cried! The German was 200 meters away from us. I screamed so loud it could be heard all over the trenches, soldiers ran out: "Quiet, quiet, or they'll open mortar fire!" But how could I be quiet? She was my best friend. We sat until the evening, and I kept crying all that time. Then we buried her. I remember there were many wildflowers. It was at Orsha, at the 3rd Belorussian Front. Later her grave was moved to Mogilev, that's where she had been born. Later Nadia Lugina was also wounded from among us. My second partner was also named Marusia, last name Guliakina.

We stood on the defensive throughout the summer: the fronts all around us were on the offensive, and we had such a solid defense. But one fine day (I don't remember the date, but not August: maybe June, maybe July) they sent us to the forward positions early in the day. There was an artillery bombardment, including "Katiushas". When a "Katiusha" fired, the uniform would flutter on your back. Then the soldiers attacked. Scouts made passages in the minefields. Soldiers were attacking, and we carried the wounded out. Once, I remember, we picked up some officer, he had a small suitcase. But we hadn't slept or eaten since four in the morning. I told him: "Drop the suitcase", what could he have in that suitcase? It was heavy to drag him with it! "I'm not dropping it, don't take me if you don't want carry me with the suitcase." Well, we carried him, what could we do? Only after the war I found out that there was a small violin in that suitcase. He didn't want to abandon it. He told me when we met. It was already in the evening, but Germans just couldn't be dislodged from their trenches. They told us girls to go there as well, also drivers and locals. Why? We reached the trench, but couldn't do anything, it was already getting dark. There remained very few people, just the girls and drivers. They told us to take all the wounded we could carry and return to our trenches. We couldn't take them all because there weren't enough of us. Germans finished off those that remained, they screamed so much! -- they were bayoneting them to death. They left us in our trench throughout the night. All minefields were cleared in front of us. I stood the watch there, could see nothing. Others were also standing watch, but I couldn't see them. I got so tired by 4 AM, couldn't take it anymore. The platoon commander Lieutenant Maskumian walked from one girl to the next, checking up. And we were all concentrating on listening. There had used to be minefields, barbed wire with various tin cans, if anything moved they would rattle. But now nothing could be heard. What if Germans attacked at night?

In the morning we got reinforcements -- Belorussians. Another bombardment, and everyone attacked. Reached the German trench, but it was empty. We had attritted them so much that they had left in the night. We barely chased them down at the Dnieper. Barely managed to catch up to them. We were on one side, and tanks were on the other. And from one side, where there was rye and a hill, and machine gun and a sniper were firing, not letting us raise our heads. Our regiment commander was Leonid Verdiukov.

A.D. What was the regiment?

1156th Regiment, 344th Rifle Division, 33rd Army. Then Verdiukov said: "Eliminate them." There were maybe 12 of us, we aimed, and of course eliminated them. Our soldiers were able to cross to the other side. We were crossing in the last boat, it capsized, and we fell in the water. Soldiers told us: "Girls, give us your rifles, we'll pull them out!"

No, I didn't tell everything. That hill. We attacked. Then we got pinned down by that machine gun and the sniper. The regiment chief of staff Aleksei Kitaev was next to me. He had a cap with a bright band. They shot him from the beginning. He got blue, fell down. We had been warned that before shooting we were supposed to pull out all wounded. I crawled to one wounded soldier, he had a stomach wound. I started picking him up, but his intestines immediately fell out. I didn't know what to do with them, so I said: "I'll go bring a medic." And crawled to another wounded, because I couldn't do anything with that one. And it was so hot! He was already getting black. Later, when we met, Zina Gavrilova told me: "I crawled to one wounded soldier, his intestines came out. He grabbed my hand and became stiff. I thought I wouldn't be able to pull my hand out. And he would probably say: one went away, another one won't pick me up either. He died, then I crawled to another one, and he also died." We crossed to the other bank. Our regiment commander Verdiukov was beating up some large German, a young guy. We asked: "Why are you beating him?" He said: "This is my neighbor, he is a Vlasovite." He killed him. Fedorova was wounded, Irina Gracheva was wounded -- many girls, I already forgot their names. Few of us remained. Marusia Guliakina was wounded again. I was shell shocked, but I didn't go to the medics, because there was blood all around, my uniform was punctured in many places, I was deaf. I thought: "Why would I go, what can they do for me? There are people without legs, without arms, blood covered, why would I go?" And I didn't go.

Then we moved on. Reached the Polish territory, and there we found ourselves not in an encirclement, but enveloped. We were quietly getting out of that encirclement. We had entrenching tools, mess tins, we tied them all together so they wouldn't make a sound. We got out of the encirclement, then we were transferred to the Leningrad Front. I can't tell you now how many kilometers, but we marched for a long time. German planes were bombing. There was such a dogfight above us once! Shell fragments were falling from the sky!

There was nowhere to sleep, we slept on the ground. And the bed -- Marusia and I put our padded jackets under us. Everyone was freezing. An accordion player once said: "Why don't you all dance, to get warm."

Once we found some house, it was completely empty. Everyone immediately lay down, but there was no room for me. There was one trough, a small one, used to chop cabbage. My choices were outside, on the second floor, or that trough. I lay down in the trough: I was small (157 centimeters tall) and skinny. It was uncomfortable. I would stretch my leg, someone would push me back, stretch my arm, someone would push me back again. Sleep wouldn't come, but I wanted to sleep anyway. In the morning someone started leaving, so I dived for that spot. Slept for a little while, and then we had to get up.

We reached the Baltic Sea. There was a ship burning. She burned for a long time. A German ship. German defense was right along the Baltic Sea. Ours was here, there was a no man's land. Then we attacked, the soldiers of the penal company went first. There were their bodies all over the field. When the wind was blowing from the field, you couldn't breathe. Then there was an offensive at Koenigsberg, we captured it. Then we were in the defense. We didn't participate in combat there, only in the defense. A sniper in general was supposed to be only in the defense. At the end of the war, they didn't take us anymore.

Then the war ended, German POWs marched for several days in formation. While we were in the trenches we weren't doing anything. They were feeding us. The prisoners marched for several days. I don't know now how many days that was. Then they transferred us to a forest, there was discipline there. We had nothing to do, so they had us build paths in the forest, with little borders, so we would be busy for the entire day.

A.D. What were you taught at the school?

They taught us tactics, how to shoot, how to camouflage. Also ballistics, how the bullet flies. Here it flies, here it hits -- I forgot everything already.

A.D. Sniping partner couples were formed at the school?

At the school. When we came as civilians, Marusia Chikhvintseva and I stood next to each other, so we remained partners with her.

A.D. And did you train as partners?


A.D. So it seems that the entire group was sent to one sector of the front?

No. Many of us graduated, I couldn't say how many now, but they sent us to all fronts.

A.D. But your group was constant? You had six pairs, right?

About 12 of us, six pairs. Simultaneously. A squad was 10 soldiers, but there were more of us.

A.D. What was the total number of Germans you killed?

I don't remember, Germans killed in battle weren't counted, only in the defense.

A.D. How did you count the kills?

The commander in whose trench we were would write a note. And we would return with it.

A.D. Then it's not clear, what if you only wounded him?

Yes, it could be, but we counted as killed.

A.D. So if he fell, that's a kill?

Yes. How would you check?

A.D. What was the usual distance you fired from?

At the school or at the front?

A.D. At the front.

1200 meters, and 200 meters. Our lines were close. Once Germans attacked our trench and took some girls prisoner, and killed them there. They killed Klava Monakhova. Only one soldier survived, there was an abandoned dug-out, simply a hole in the soil covered with a ground-sheet with snow on top, he hid there. Germans held out for a day, so he spent the day there.

A.D. What was the standard distance from which you fired? Or an optimal one?

Well, what's there to say? The rifle could shoot two kilometers in a straight line. But you could observe up to 800 meters. At the school we fired at 200, and 300. There was night target practice. Different kinds of shooting.

A.D. Even at night?

Even at night. How else?

A.D. Did you shoot at night at the front?


A.D. And in the moonlight?

No. As soon as it dawned we went to our position, as soon as it got dark we returned. We stayed not in the trenches, but at the regiment commander's command post.

A.D. How many shots did you fire from one position?

One. You couldn't do two.

A.D. Or else you'd get killed?

Of course!

A.D. So, in practice that would amount to one shot per day?

Yes, if you kill, otherwise you might not have even one.

A.D. And partners were always next to each other?

Yes, at arm's length. Together all the time. Some went outside the defenses, but we didn't. Why? Because minefields had to be cleared, and that was very difficult and dangerous for the sappers. Then again, we stood as soldiers in the daytime, while the soldiers were resting. There were fifty soldiers in a trench. Ten of them, no more, stood watch at night.

A.D. Those were the outposts?


A.D. So you shot from the trenches of the outposts?


A.D. And those you killed during an attack weren't counted?

No. We weren't even supposed to participate in attacks. But we did.

A.D. Did you deal somehow with that sniper who killed your partner?

How could you deal with him? The offensive began immediately afterward. We buried her, and then the offensive began. Maybe we dealt with him, but we had other concerns. I was so upset, it was so hard for me.

A.D. What else was important, besides excellent shooting, to be successful?

Camouflage! You had to hide yourself very well. They really pushed us at the school because of that. Sometimes you would sit down, but your entire body could be seen. You had to camouflage yourself so you couldn't be seen. Fit your surroundings. When we arrived during the snow, they gave us special coveralls.

A.D. And in the summer? Was your camouflage changed?

Green camouflage. There was no spotted one. They gave us green pants, green tunics. We were always wearing pants, not skirts. Winter pants in the winter, summer pants in the summer.

A.D. Did you use binoculars?

No, only the optical sight.

A.D. But the sight doesn't have a good field of view?

You could see 800 meters very well. You would sit there without moving, and if you moved, then you were noticed. A sniper would lie there quietly and see to the distance of two kilometers, 800 meters wide. He would observe everything. When I got tired, I would say "Marusia, I'm done," -- she would start observing. Because sniper's task was to eliminate commanders, machine gun emplacements, messengers that would be running around. They also had to be eliminated. Soldiers were not necessary, mostly -- officers, commanders. You would fire one shot, let go of the rifle, and lie there. You would wait until your partner fired her shot. When it became dark, we left our position. During the day we walked around, looked for a good spot to lie in wait. Sometimes picked a spot in front of our trenches. After picking a spot, took up the position when it was dark. Then we lay there without moving a muscle until the next evening, because you couldn't crawl away in the daylight. If there was an attack, that was different, then you would get up and run. Otherwise, you would lie in that spot to the end.

A.D. Did you have hand grenades?

Yes. We carried two hand grenades on our belt. One for the fascists, one for yourself, so you wouldn't be captured by the fascists. It was necessary.

A.D. Did you fire in the crosswind?

Yes, we were trained to do that. And firing at moving targets as well. Different things. Some fired, others spun those targets. At our school, there was one good trench, and one small one. God save you from being sent there, you would spend the entire day in the snow. After you returned, you would literally tear your foot bindings off your feet. Everyone's feet hurt.

A.D. Because you had to lie in the snow?

Yes. At the front we also lay in the swamps. Near Leningrad, there were only swamps. If a horse passed by, there was water under the hoofs. You would wash yourself with it, and even drink from that hoof print.

A.D. Did you have a regular Mosin rifle?

Yes, a three-line rifle (line=1/10 inch, 3 lines=7.62 mm - trans.) with a bayonet. Regular one. Always with a bayonet and an optical sight.

A.D. Why the bayonet?

Just in case, if you go on the attack. An entrenching tool, a mess tin, two grenades, ammo, first aid kit.

A.D. What was the farthest target you hit?

Near the Dnieper, a machine gunner and a sniper.

A.D. What was the distance there?

Across a field, they were sitting in a shed. Probably a kilometer, if not more. A target could be hit up to two kilometers.

A.D. You were attached to a regiment? A sniper squad was attached to a regiment?

To a regiment. A trench was given to us. That was the place we went until the offensive began. In a designated area.

A.D. What was the sense in that? If you couldn't occupy the same position?

There was a lot of room there. We had 500 meters, and there were two of us.

A.D. Could you be transferred from one regiment to another? Or there were no such cases? Always with the same regiment?

It happened. At first all of us were stuck into one regiment, the 52nd, thirty plus snipers. Afterward, 12 remained in the 52nd, 12 in the 54th, and 12 in the 56th. They split us up by squads.

A.D. Were there snipers in rifle platoons as part of TO&E?

You know, only one in the Leningrad Front at Koenigsberg, I remember him -- Aleksei (don't remember his last name), one man. We were brought there, he was alone. No, there was another Georgian, and another one, from Smolensk? There were four men at Leningrad.

A.D. They were the permanent snipers of the regiment?

Yes. Self-taught.

A.D. What were your relations with the local population?

After we crossed the Nieman, we girls were walking. There were husband and wife walking toward us, they seemed old back then, but now I would've said young, about 50, they were carrying milk. So they gestured to us -- drink. The girls refused, what if it was poisoned? I was uncomfortable that we were refusing, they were offering it from the bottom of their heart. So I said: "I'll drink it." And drank the milk, nothing happened to me. At Koenigsberg we were invited to someone, they set a nice table, treated us. Later we were invited again, ate bilberry with milk.

A.D. Did you take trophies?

I can tell you about trophies. Near Smolensk, you would come out at night, there would be the smell of ashes and only chimney flues were left standing. And in the daytime it was hot in July. If there were rags lying around, we would take off our boots, throw out our sweaty soiled foot bindings, pick something suitable, put them on, and be on our way. It was hard to carry what we had, we were barely walking ourselves, what trophies? Our scouts sometimes gave us chocolate. Not only gave us, once they set an entire table, there were all kinds of chocolate. They captured some stockpile of it, and invited us. So we stuffed ourselves with that chocolate.

- Antonina Aleksandrovna Kotliarova:

I once got a parcel during the war. It was sent to me personally by some engine driver. I forgot now. The commander took out the alcohol, but gave me the rest. They removed vodka from all packages, and gave the rest to the girls. There was food there.

A.D. Were there any signs, forebodings at the front?

My Marusia Chikhvintseva had a foreboding. She didn't want to go on watch. "I don't want to, I can't go today." But she didn't go the commander to ask him not to send her. And got killed. I live for her now.

Interview:Artem Drabkin
Translated by:Oleg Sheremet


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