When the Stalingrad offensive started, I also happened to take part in it. There was one battle, when we supported the infantry. We had tanks in our tank scout company dug in, we guarded the headquarters. The brigade chief of staff approached us and said that the station had to be captured. There was a dominant hill and the infantry couldn’t take it without tank support. He said: “Give us a couple of tanks. There are some of them standing camouflaged, guarding the HQ”. The commander cursed for a while, yet gave him two tanks, including that of ours. We got loaded with ammo and drove on. There was a little house on the hill, it was on the opposite slope, hardly visible. The Germans had a firing position equipped there. The task was to blow the house to smithereens. We blasted it with two shots. Then we went up the hill along with the infantry. Behind the hill the Germans had trenches and a mortar battery.
Well, what helped me back then – T-34 is deaf and blind in battle, you close the hatch – the triplex is tiny, you just can’t see anything. If you fear death – well, you can close the hatch. I thought that only a stray bullet would fly into an open hatch, or a German would bayonet me if he could get close enough. That’s why I always drove my tank with an open hatch. So, we blasted this little house, and there below, from behind the hill, their mortars were firing. And I don’t know whether it was a mine or a shell, it exploded on frontal armor. There was a flash, I was dazzled. My face was burnt a bit. I felt neither pain, nor anything at all. I hopped on the top of the hill, and there I saw – there were German mortars down there. It was the first time I saw them like that, close up. And the Germans seemed to encounter a Soviet tank for the first time, obviously. I had a course machinegun at hand, I opened fire from it. It’s quite close to the place of driver-mechanic, it’s easy to reach. At the same time I turned the tank left-right, for I could get so carried away that I could miss a hit in the side. The commander yells: “Go forward!” I shoot, shoot more. I also had a SMG. I drove over the trench, rode over the mortars, squishing them, the Germans were fleeing. I pressed on the gas, stuck out of the hatch showing half of my body and fired a whole ammo clip from my SMG. The commander shouted to me: “Mishka, turn away, the task’s accomplished, let’s drive home”. I start pushing friction pedal with my left foot, for turning around – I can’t press it – a shell fragment hit my leg. I push friction pedal with my right foot, start turning around, and there I saw – my hands were bloodied. It was that shell that exploded on the armor. Its fragments got stuck into my face. I wiped my face, for it was hot – so my hands got bloodied. And I didn’t feel anything for the first time, it was such a fever! It was the first time I had such a battle! I didn’t fear death, didn’t even think about it. The commander of our scout company always taught us that way: “Don’t fear death. If it’s destined for you from birth, it’ll find you, and you won’t hide from it in a ninefold covered dugout”. So I had no fear and never closed my hatch. That was why my tank was always fast – the hatch was open, everything could be seen. I noticed anti-tank guns immediately as they started firing, and started maneuvering at once. You just linger one bit – and get hit in the side. It’s quite bad to be hit in the side, a frontal hit isn’t so dangerous.
We returned, the commander got out of the tank, and said: “Mishka, all of your face is broken down”. They pulled me from the tank, I fell, there was a fragment in my leg too. They brought me to medical batallion, right on the table. Everything’s covered with blood. And the lighting was – a hollow 45 mm shell, there’s a piece of foot wrapping inserted into it, some benzine was poured, and so it burned. They pulled out all the fragments, bandaged everything, and, propped by my commander, I went away from there. Everything was broken in my mouth, I couldn’t chew anything. I only gargled my mouth with vodka, and then went to bed. That’s how this battle episode finished for me.
|Translated by:||Alexander Shmidke|