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Tankers

Kalinenok Marat Alexandrovich


I do not remember the first battle as such, but I can tell you about the most memorable assignment of that period. The platoon commander Ivan Dubovik was advancing first, followed by Vladimir Sergievsky, and I was advancing third. We received a signal: "There are Germans ahead in the village of Ozeravtsy." We bristled out our guns right away: one forward, the other two to the left and to the right. We went on along a country road and the dust that rose was just terrible. Suddenly we lost our platoon commander. We could not see his tank.

It turned out that the platoon commander’s tank had fallen on its side in the water from a 10 meter long bridge over the rivulet, and Vladimir trying to catch up with him, picked up speed and slipped over his tank as if it were a bridge and at only the end of the village triggered three anti-tank mines at a time, got damaged though not very heavily. It turned out that in a small trench were the Germans who dragged the mines with ropes under the tank.

Popov of the 2nd platoon caught up with me and communicated the order: "We need to go ahead and perform the task." I crossed the rivulet near the bridge and rushed forward. After covering about one kilometer we fired at an anti-tank gun, and crushed a second one with tracks, but there was a marshy terrain and Popov’s tank got badly bogged down in the swamp. I proceeded with pulling him out under gunfire but got bogged down myself...

There it began in earnest. They fired at us from three directions. But while Popov’s tank was intact, the rear side of my tank received five shells right away and the tank caught fire. As it turned out later, a German assault gun "Ferdinand" had fired at us.

We pulled out machine guns and took all round defenses. And when by evening they began surrounding us, we decided to retreat through a rye field. Before I knew it my crew disappeared in the tall rye, and I was behind them with a revolver in my hand. You know that the TT pistols were not issued for tankers, but the revolvers were, because through the plugged slit in the turret only the barrel of a revolver pistol could be pushed. I came to the village and found my crew lounging around by the fire, drinking teak. "Well done guys!” – I said to them – “You retreated and left your commander behind." The next day, the Germans withdrew, and we pulled our armored vehicles out and sent them away for repair. That was my first major clash with the Germans. In general, in those days, we were in reconnaissance all the time.

Presently I was transferred to the 3rd Battalion of the 89th Armored Brigade, and again I found myself in a reconnaissance platoon. Our task was to find out where the frontline of the Germans was, so we went ahead and the rest of the brigade and the others followed us.

- How good was visibility from the tank, especially when on the move?

There, of course, certain skills were required, but to be honest with you, one could not see a damn shit from the tank. Therefore, we had to do our reconnaissance this way, to open the hatch, and standing on one’s haunches on the seat to look through binoculars. Of course, it was dangerous because one could get a shot in the head, and such things really happened, but visibility in such cases was much better. I remember in one of the reconnaissance raids somewhere in East Prussia my crew advanced first. Everything was fine, but suddenly we got a hit in the side. I immediately ordered to the gunner: "Cannon right. Fire!" Simultaneously I commanded to the driver: "Short stop!" We received a second shot, and then a third one. We managed to destroy the German gun anyway, but our tank began smoking.

My crew and I rushed towards a homestead, and my platoon commander, seeing my tank smoking, immediately drove up to that homestead to use it as cover and went on firing his gun from there. Then he said to me: "Let's go towards your tank, it is not burning" - "It is burning, Vanya”, I said, “I feel it." We crawled toward the tank and as we took off the tarp from the engine compartment, it immediately flashed ... "Well” - I said, - “Can you see? It’s burning"

- In which cases were you allowed to abandon the tank, and in which situations did you have to stay and keep firing from it?

If the tank was damaged, but it was not on fire and still could move, we stayed inside. But if the tank could not move, we immediately bailed out. However, the only repair we could do during battle on our own was fixing the tracks, as for other repairs, it was out of question.

Anyway, with joint efforts we suppressed the gun battery that had burned my tank, but the rest of our forces still did not arrive. It turned out that they realized that there was a German defensive screen in the area and bypassed it. Dubovik said to me: "We have to get out of here." His driver-mechanic was wounded, so I sat down at the controls. At high speed we rushed onto a first class highway, but I could not turn around and having rushed at high speed to the other side we went towards our troops. Then a German plane showed up and started firing at us. Ivan commanded: "Let's go into the woods." I rushed over a ditch and both our tracks went off. Thanks goodness, the plane flew away. It took us a while to pull the tracks back in place and only after ten kilometers did we manage to catch up with our brigade.

- By the way, have you lost many tanks to the Luftwaffe?

I don’t think so. I do not know exactly, but I think that in our brigade only one tank was knocked out by the Luftwaffe. We were really afraid of the enemy’s heavy self-propelled guns because the range of a direct shot they could fire was much greater and they did not allow us to approach them so easily. Even the Tiger panzers were not as scary to us as were those Ferdinand self-propelled guns. We also feared the Panzerfausts as those were very dangerous. In one of the German towns one such thing was launched at my tank at a range of about thirty meters. Luckily, it only broke an idle wheel off that caused the track go off. The tank spun in its place, and only the radio operator was wounded by armor fragments.

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Interview and literary work by: N. Chobanu
Translated by: N. Kulinich
Translation review by: Charles G. Powers




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