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  • Skoblin
    Such a hell I never witnessed again.....
    I. D. Yelokhovskiy
    Former platoon commander - Independent 76-mm Artillery Battalion, 59th Independent Rifle Brigade

    I entered the 59th Brigade as a 19-year-old graduate of an artillery school in the town of Engel's. The brigade had been organized in November 1941, in the village of Dergachi, in Saratov province, and consisted mainly of inhabitants from the towns of Saratov and Penza. All the equipment was horse-drawn, making use of untrained horses from the collective farms, ignoring the fact that horses must know commands and not be afraid of gunfire.

    In December, we set out by train from Altata Station to the front. On New Year's Eve, we detrained outside of Budogoshchi and were immediately sent on the attack. The attack, however, had not been prepared, and there not enough shells even for the 'forty-fives' [45-mm guns - skoblin]

    I had been a senior sergeant in the artillery school and was appointed an assistant platoon commander. I was first given command of one gun, followed later by a platoon of 45-mm guns. While at school, we had practiced on 152-mm guns, but this was not a matter of discussion at the front.

    We attacked from the Selizh Barracks in the middle of January. Each gun had been provided 15 to 20 rounds, whereas the standard complement during an attack was 200 rounds. Our battery commander was Lieutenant Gusak.

    The infantry crossed the Volkhov under continuous mortar fire. On the other side of the river, the Germans employed tanks. Lieutenant Gusak ordered: “Yelokhovskiy! Forward with the platoon!". Our second gun tarried behind, while the first gun went about “hell bent for leather” and tore along at a quick pace. The Germans, however, let loose with bombs and shellfire. One shell exploded directly in front of the horses and the first gun took a running dive into an ice-hole. Both the horses and all six crew men went with it... I managed to swing the gun around and bring it to the opposite bank. The bank on that side was steep, not like at Selizh, and there was a lot snow. The infantry, however, noticed that the gun had come up and stretch out their hands to my 'forty-five' – their saviour.

    We managed to knock out two tanks, but the third drove on our gun at full speed. The crew was crushed. I was sitting on the trail of the gun, which flipped over, and I flew almost 6 meters – which saved me. I was, however, wounded in both hands by splinters.

    The wounds were generally a trifling matter. I was wounded three times during the war and also suffered one concussion. But still – they were my hands...and one is only human after all... Try to get around with bandaged hands – and in -30 degree weather... I headed off for the hospital in Malaya Vishera, making my way partially on foot and partially driven.

    The hospital was set up in a school, whose windows had been covered over with tents and tarps. In the middle of the gymnasium stood a burning stove, and around it were placed the seriously wounded. The doctors worked day and night but still did not reach us. Finally, during the night of the third day I could could not contain myself and I begged: “Nurse, please re-bandage me, I can't stand it any longer!”. She undid the bandage and gasped – underneath were lice and blackened skin. She ran to the surgeons' quarters and found a major of the medical services sleeping on a chair. He started yelling at me: “How did you let this happen?!”. With that, I understood my condition had become worse...

    Two weeks later I returned to the brigade and found myself in the 76-mm gun battalion. Lieutenant Gusak, meanwhile, had been killed near Spasskaya Polist'.

    The offensive continued - through Zamoshskoe swamp and past Finev Lug. The infantry were in the front and we followed behind. The snow was up to a meter deep. The guns were swallowed up. Trees were cut down and wedges placed under the wheels. The horses, let them be praised, pulled the guns out.

    During battle, we would dig a hole in the snow to protect the gun and the crew. Firing from mostly open positions had led the crew to naming the gun “Farewell, Motherland!”. But in firing from a covered position only two or three shells would hit their target, while firing direct it was more like three out of thirty-five – and there was a lack of shells during the entire operation.

    It wasn't only shells that were lacking. The supply situation from January right up to the very end was deplorable. Food was in scant supply. Pea soup mash in a common pot for ten men – that was it. We were saved by the fact that the artillery was horse-drawn. Anyway, there was no way to feed the horses. How many horses could survive on birch branches alone? The horses died and we ate them. This occurred around once a week...

    At the end of March, the roads turned to water. Shells had to be dragged the 5 km from the brigade's supply depot at Dubovka. And how many could a hungry man carry? - Two shells at most, with each shell for a 76-mm gun weighing 7.5 kg....

    In the spring it became clear, that our matériel could no longer be withdrawn – which was indeed the case. We were almost continuously encircled. By my own calculations, the Germans closed the corridor at Myasniy Bor around eight times. The food situation became quite bad. The horses, which had died during the winter, could still be eaten while frozen. But with the warm weather the corpses swelled up and maggots appeared... For the last days of April and all of May supplies were generally non-existent. supplies. Kukuruzniks [Polikarpov Po-2 aircraft – skoblin] would drop dry rations, but to what purpose? A sack would either fall into the swamp or strike a stump and break into dust. Some would glean the meager pieces from the mud but there would be little at all to be found...

    We fed ourselves at the expense of the Germans. Defensive fighting was a daily occurrence – the Germans would attack and we would repel them. There were mountains of dead. At night, we would crawl along the ridge to no man's land and grope through the German dead, in order to find something to live on. Then the Germans guessed what we were up to and started to send their men into battle without food satchels – only guns.

    Worse still was having to go without tobacco. I myself managed to buy some makhorka off a soldier at 100 roubles a smoke and was immeasurably glad. To this day, I smoke a cigarette right down to the dregs – a habit I picked up from the war.

    The Germans scattered leaflets all over, promising a comfortable life in captivity. But here is the interesting thing - no matter how desperate things got, none of the lads thought about captivity. Every one of them believed that we were to certain to make it out of the ring. Since we had no paper and newspapers rarely reached us, we took to using leaflets to roll cigarettes. No makhorka was supplied in the spring and we took to smoking moss and dead leaves.

    An unpleasant occurrence took place one day. I had a gun-layer named Lukin – a simple-hearted fellow from Novgorod. Not being very clever, he had torn a leaflet and hid the paper in his pocket to use later. Unfortunately, part of it stuck out of his pocket and he was promptly arrested.

    Our battalion commander was Captain Belov – a splendid man who was formerly the chairman of a collective farm. I went to him and told him: the SMERSH have arrested the Lukin, the gun-layer and that Lukin was a good man although irresponsible. Belov spoke with the Special Section but with no success: “It's none of our business!”

    Belov, however, was an experienced and energetic commander and was afraid of no one. As battalion commander he ordered the man to be released and that was it! The officer of the Special Section wrote a report on him but no one paid the fool any more attention.

    In May, the withdrawal was announced. We were located at the most westerly point and would be the last ordered to withdraw. We blew up the guns and the men became infantry.

    The month of June was especially difficult. There was little ammunition and no bread. We ate leaves, roots and frogs. I had experienced hunger as a child and knew which grasses were edible. Our northern weather also vexed us as the nights were still bright at midnight. The Germans would bomb and strafe us in a frightening manner. Our lieutenant was killed and I was ordered to take over the company. Only eighteen men remained from the original eighty in the company.

    On 23 June we assembled for the break out to Myasniy Bor. I went to the medical battalion to visit a friend – Valya Fomchenko, a gunner from Leningrad. He had lost his leg in May but had still not been evacuated. The medical battalion was overflowing. The wounded lay about on stretchers without cover. The situation was wretched for us, but for them it doubly so, being hungry, wounded and ill. At least we had the hope of escaping, but what of them – those missing arms and legs? What was to happen with them?

    Valka pleaded: “Don't abandon me, Igorek!”. I grabbed a stick and put his hand on my shoulder. How could I refuse?

    The withdrawal began on the 24th at 0100 hours. Cries were heard: “If we perish, we perish, lads! Forward!!!”. A throng surged forth along the narrow-gauge railway. Valka hopped beside me on one leg. He stumbled and fell but I was pushed forward by the mass of men. I only heard his dwindling cry: “”. I still hear this faint cry for help at night...and I awake in a cold sweat...not having helped him.

    This unrestrained crowd of men braved many things. I know that small rivers crossed our path – the Glushitsa and the Polist'. I do not remember the water, however, as a slippery train of human bodies lay under our feet. I went through the entire war, but never witnessed such carnage anywhere. There was no open “corridor” - the Germans were everywhere...on all sides. One could run, but there was no place to hide from the shooting. Few remained alive...

    From the 59th Brigade, only 32 men escaped that day. Our appearance was frightful: covered in mud, in scorched winter jackets and torn up felt boots – or – generally – barefoot. Some were skeletons while others were so swollen their eyes were not visible. We had not been able to eat for a long time. They would give us a bucket of porridge for ten men and we would clean it right to the bottom.

    We were sent to a medical battalion on the eastern bank of the Volkhov. There we rested for ten days. Suddenly, a major-general from the political section arrived from headquarters: “Comrades, the Germans have broken through to the Volkhov! And the Volkhov is just a stone's throw away.” We all stood up as one and headed off for battle. From our thirty two men, only six would return...

    Others also made their way out of the encirclement later, but those who escaped with their units between the 24th and the 26th were not questioned. Those who escaped later, singly, underwent interrogation. Many were released, but others... The screening was vigilant. I remained in the brigade until it was reformed in April 1943. I then served in the 20th Rifle Division until the end of the war.
    Last edited by Skoblin; 28 Apr 10, 11:17.

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  • Skoblin
    Originally posted by ShAA View Post
    Pogostye, Volkhov Front, January 1942

    Denis Bazuev, 2004
    Thanks for posting this, Sasha. An extremely poignant painting.

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  • ShAA
    Pogostye, Volkhov Front, January 1942

    Denis Bazuev, 2004
    Last edited by ShAA; 20 Dec 09, 18:34.

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  • Skoblin
    I. Kh. Venets, former commissar, 59th Independent Rifle Brigade.

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  • Nick the Noodle
    Just given this thread a 5 star rating - excellent stuff .

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  • Skoblin
    German 291st Infantry Division - Photogallery II

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  • Skoblin
    A German translation regarding the Volkhov battle this time...

    On the northern flank of the Eastern Front...
    A. Gütte, Former Sergeant-Major, 5th Company, 90th Motorised Regiment, 20th Infantry (Motorised) Division.

    It was the middle of January, 1942. With Private Jansen as my driver, I went from Chudovo to Podberez'e, in order to fetch some urgently needed items. Driving along the road southwards, it was quiet and owing to the snow-cover, the visibility was quite good despite the darkness.

    A few kilometers north of Spasskaya Polist', there were several lifeless bodies laying along the roadside. We kept our weapons at the ready as we approached the village. The driver kept the engine running. What we found were the bodies of seven dead Red Army soldiers, yet there was no one to be seen anywhere. It was a riddle as to how the Russians had come to be here so far behind the front. The whole thing was quite unsettling and we quickly resumed our drive. Even in the small villages which we passed through there was no one in sight. The reason for this, however, would become clear the following day.

    Our stay in Podberez'e lasted a day longer, as we were notified that some replacements were to come with us to the front. We began our journey back early the following morning. Ten soldiers, wrapped in uniforms and blankets, were loaded onto the truck. The temperature was beastly 50 below zero and a strong wind had thrown up snow drifts during the night. Time and again, the men had to get out and pitch a hand in helping the lorry through a snowbank or shovel the wheels free from snow. Matters only improved when we reached the Shimsk-Novgorod road.

    We reached Novgorod around noontime. On the northern outskirts of the town, on the road to Chudovo, a barrier had been erected. Military police were stopping all vehicles and ordering them back.
    “Where are you heading?”
    “To Chudovo, to our unit!”
    “The road is closed. Two villages in the area have been captured by the enemy. A counter-attack is underway and I don't know when the road will be opened.”
    “Is there a posted bypass route?”
    “No. You must look for one yourself”
    The police sergeant then turned towards another vehicle.
    Jansen drove onto a side road and stopped the truck. The troops, frozen through to their the bones, immediately sprang from the back of the lorry and began hopping wildly.
    “What are we to do, Herr Sergeant-Major?”
    “I don't know yet. We will have to see.”

    Studying the map, there were a number of possibilities: one was straight west over the Luga, north through Gatchina and then south-east via Pushkin. All were significant detours, costing a tremendous amount of time. There was a shorter way, however: through the Volkhov forests to the north-east. After a thorough examination of all the advantages and disadvantages, we chose the shorter route.

    After driving some 20 kilometers, we reached a small village, in which a Luftwaffe supply unit was located. It was a welcome opportunity to take a break. With a warm meal and a hot drink, we felt ourselves refreshed. Jansen even managed to fill up the gas tank and received two more petrol canisters in reserve. Our comrades could not provide us any information regarding the road conditions, however, and the maps available to us were of poor quality.

    Our lorry embarked once more upon its lonely journey through the vast wooded region. After the Pripet Marshes, this was the largest marsh and forested area in Europe, intersected by small clearings, cuttings and pathways. It was easy to lose one's way among the numerous side roads, forks and intersections, which were barely visible in the snow due to the absence of tracks.

    With the onset of dusk, a small hut suddenly came into view. Somewhat in the distance stood the houses and villages of a small village, located in a clearing. We pulled over and entered.
    An old woman met us halfway and said: Woijna plokho! (The war is bad!)
    Da, da, Babushka...Woijna plokho...Germanski soldat khorosho! (Yes, Grandmother...the war is bad...but the German soldiers are good!).

    Jansen looked after the truck and placed it on brushwood blocks to prevent the tires from freezing. The soldiers, meanwhile, gathered straw and hay from a nearby stack and packed it into the lorry. The engine coolant was enriched with thermal oil, obtained from a damaged field kitchen, and was not allowed to drain out. This oil had originally been used to surround the cauldron in a damaged field kitchen to prevent the food from burning. Now, this glycerin-infused oil was being used to prevent the engine coolant from freezing. The Babushka was given the task of making some hot water so that the canteens of frozen coffee could be thawed out. The bread rations were likewise thawed out and toasted. After the sentry arrangements were determined, we turned in for a rest. The Babushka waited on us hand and foot, while we barely spoke.

    Our journey already continued before daybreak. We gave the old woman a half-loaf of bread and a roll of candy. We had nothing more to give. It quickly grew light out. The deep snow-covered forest, crackling from the frost, presented an uncanny and sinister appearance. Coming around a corner, Jansen pressed hard on the brakes and brought the truck to a standstill: on the wayside stood a German truck convoy.
    “Everyone out and weapons at the ready!”

    There were twelve vehicles. They had been abandoned and ransacked, with no trace of either the drivers or the passengers. The column carried no tactical signs and the lorries were entirely covered over with white paint. What had happened? The Russians, who had broken through, must have attacked the column while it was halted. We had been told that the enemy had only captured two villages and that a counter-attack was underway. It seemed, though, much more was going on here. Caution was advised. Despite reservations, our journey continued. Turning around was not an option.

    We finally reached the end of great forest around midday. A town and usable airfield became visible. We had reached Lyuban'. Soon we would be driving into Chudovo. Our joy was great, especially among the reinforcements. Indeed, the soldiers had to proceed directly to the Field Hospital for the treatment of frostbite, which they had picked up along the way. The 180 kilometer journey back had taken place under very difficult conditions and without being aware of it, we had witnessed the beginning of the battle of the Volkhov. But what had happened actually?

    The enemy had attacked across the Volkhov without any artillery preparation, right at the junction point between the 126th and 215th Infantry Divisions. It then established a bridgehead north-west of Novgorod and broke into the main defensive line. Colonel Hopped barred the way with part of his regiment, but was unable to restore the old defensive line. The next day already saw the Russians in the villages of Yamno and Arefino. The breakthrough was now several kilometers wide and the enemy was throwing strong forces into the gap. The Novgorod-Chudovo motor road was reached and severed. The villages of Lyubtsy, Myasniy Bor, Mostki and Spasskaya Polist' were surrounded. The villages were bitterly defended by the soldiers of the 126th Infantry Division and held out for weeks in the rear of the Soviet forces which had broken through the front.

    On January 24th, the Soviets launched a thrust into the deep woods of the Volkhov. The Soviet assault, aimed first at Leningrad and then towards the Estonian border, created a narrow corridor to the north-west in which a great many troops were enclosed. The corridor, however, was too narrow and the flanks much too long. The Russians were unable to provide sufficient cover and protection for it and all attempts to widen the corridor led to heavy losses. Thousands of Red Army soldiers were left laying in the woods and forests of the Volkhov.

    General of the Cavalry Lindemann, Commander-in-Chief of of the 18th Army, showed himself to be a true master of improvisation. He defied the enemy, making use of all available forces. The 5th Company remained in its positions along the railway embankment, and was then sent into action against the corridor. The new company command post was easily reached by panje sled. Nearby stood a defective Soviet command snow-sled. First lieutenant Piener would have loved to have had it in operation, but the company mechanic was unable to get it running. The troops were bivouacked in some partially destroyed, Soviet-built wooden bunkers. The earthen bunkers were not much to think of. The existing bunkers – or what was left of them – were reinforced with tree trunks. The defensive position lay around a small clearing and extended somewhat along a fire-break. One morning, the company's defensive positions were attacked by three Soviet aircraft. They flew in a shortly-spaced line along the fire-break. The first aircraft released its bombs. The second aircraft also succeeded in doing so, but the the third one flew straight into the fountain of snow and mud that had been thrown up. It banked steeply and crashed. “Those stupid Ivans, something's not all there with them. They've blown themselves up,” came from the mouths of the troopers.

    With the beginning of the spring thaw, all the paths and lanes became quagmires. The time for panje wagons and sleds was over. Columns led by pack animals were organized to maintain the delivery of supplies. The main burden was placed on the Volkhov Express. This narrow-gauge railway had to haul soldiers, munitions, provisions and many other items. Narrow corduroy roads radiated outwards from the station halts to the field positions. Everything had to be carried from these halts. The roads became transformed into waterways. Every step had to be tested beforehand with a stick to escape the danger of falling into bomb craters or shell holes. This was the origin of the legendary “Volkhov mallet”.

    General Vlasov took over command of the enemy forces in the Volkhov area. Despite energetic efforts, however, he was unable to improve the situation and avert the impending disaster. The Shock army found itself encircled in the woods. After heavy fighting, the Soviets succeeded in opening up a corridor to the pocket once more. It was dangerously narrow, however, and was only a few kilometers wide. Despite severe hardships, the Russians were able to build two narrow-gauge rail lines to supply and reinforce the pocket. Desperate attempts to widen the corridor failed. German combat groups smashed the Soviet efforts through vigorously led attacks. On May 31st, the pocket was closed for a second and final time. The enemy's fate was now sealed.

    The forests grew green and storm clouds darkened the skies. Mosquitoes swarmed over the swamps, tormenting the long-suffering soldiers, and neither gloves nor netting provided relief. With this plague came the almost unbearable nausea occasioned by the decaying flesh of the fallen, laying in the swamps and woods. A last desperate attempt to break out of the encirclement was beaten back by dive-bombers. The pocket was then split in half and the end point arrived. The Russian troops emerged from their hiding places in the hundreds and thousands. Many were wounded. Most of them were half-starving and barely retained the semblance of human beings. On June 27th, it was all over. 21 enemy formations had been smashed. The front newspaper reported on Tuesday, June 30th, 1942: “The Leningrad relief attempt has failed. The Volkhov battle has ended. 33,000 prisoners have been taken, 649 guns and 171 tanks have been captured or destroyed!”

    Despite intensive efforts, General Vlasov could not be found. A few weeks later, however, following a lead, he was tracked down to a peasant's hut and taken prisoner. During the frightful time in the pocket he had become a mortal enemy of Stalin's and now offered his services to the Germans. He became the organizer and commander of the so-called Vlasov Army, which fought on the side of the Wehrmacht. Stalins vengeance would come after the war. Vlasov was condemned to death and hanged in Moscow.
    Last edited by Skoblin; 28 Apr 10, 11:12.

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  • Nick the Noodle
    Keep up the great work .

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  • Skoblin
    Fedor Fedorchuk, signaller, Manchurian Front (1945)

    I was born on 10 August 1927, in the small village of Ripki, in Izyaslav district, Vinnitsya province in the Ukraine (the district is now considered part of Khmel'nitskiy province). My parents were middle peasants, having 2 horses and 4 acres of land to their name. I had three brothers, the youngest being born in 1930. During the famine of 1933-1934, my father was unable to pay the bread tax due to the poor harvest. As a result, government officials arrived and made an inventory of the property. I was 6 years old but I remember the event well. It was winter, our horses were harnessed to a sleigh, and they began to ride off with the property from our lodgings. But what possessions could a peasant family have? Well, my mother had a sewing machine and some pillows and cushions if that. Although many things were left behind, they took the sewing machine and placed it on the sleigh. My father, however, had already opened the casing, removed the metal workings, and then closed the machine back up. He hid the pieces “in the hill”, that is, in the attic. When they opened the casing, there was nothing there. My father was standing on the porch, and they seized him by the collar: “What did you do with it?” Not having answered, they pulled my father by the collar, but he struck one of the expropriators. Then my father crawled into the attic and threw down the parts removed from the sewing machine. What else could he do? They convicted him of hooliganism and gave him a three term in prison. He worked on the Moscow-Volga canal. As it turned out, my father was released early, having served two years, but he returned to nothing; there was no work to be had. In Irkutsk province, in Siberia, however, we had relatives on my mother's side, and they invited my father to move in with them. He departed for Siberia, got set up there, started working, and even sent money for chereviki (Ukrainian: leather boots), something we had never seen before, let alone wore. Afterwards, he wrote our mother: “Come on out here, then...!” And so, our mother and us - her four sons - packed a few items, while our grandfather helped out by selling something or other so that we would have enough for our tickets. In 1935, we left for Siberia.

    We arrived in Irkutsk, and there I entered the 1st grade. At that time I only spoke Ukrainian, and being unfamiliar with a Russian school, I burst into tears. Soon, however, I became used to the language and started learning. My father was employed as a stoker in the main hotel of the city, as everything was fueled by coal in those days. He remained, however, a peasant at heart and so he decided to move back to the countryside, even though mama was already working as a housemaid while my older brother Dmitrii had settled down and started getting himself established. Our father, however, imposed his will, and as a result we moved to a village outside Irkutsk where father had bought some old wooden barn. The forest around the village was deciduous, and thus the wooden material used was thick and it was warm even in the shed. By 1940, we had built a house and begun to live there, but my father did not have time to feel at home in it as the war began in 1941.

    On June 22nd, 1941, the announcement was made that we had been attacked by Germany. We, still young lads, were delighted at first and let loose with a shout of urrah! But then they suddenly took my father away and the Germans had reached Kiev, and we began to understand that things were not so simple. I had succeeded in finishing only 5 grades of school and was supposed to enter grade 6, when the government issued a proclamation: all 6th grade pupils were to be sent to the REU [District Operations Administration] and the ZhEU [Railway Operations Administration], where we were to learn a trade and then be sent to work, on the either the railways or as apprentices in the factories. My mother said at he time: “Why don't you go, my son. It will better to work in the MTM [Machine and Tractor Works] than to be taken who knows where”. Indeed, we worked in the REU and the ZhEU not out of choice, but simply because we had to. On February 1st, 1942, I left for work in the MTM, where I repaired tractors, but the equipment was varied. I was assigned to a lathe operator, who was working at a meter and a half long work station, equipped with a large clamp for holding the materials being worked on. The lathe was an old model IDIT-300 and for me, as a novice, it was very difficult work. I trained for two months, then the lathe-operator was sent to the front, and I was left to stand at the machine-bench in his place. I would press the button: the carriage would be set in motion, the tail stock would line up, and then I would do everything manually. We would roll everything we could not lift. I am reminded of poet Nekrasov, when he wrote: “Since these years in the factories, we've been turning wheels round round, round...” I was not yet 15 years old, yet we would work twelve hour shifts , changing by the week. One week would be from 8 in the morning to 8 at night, the next from 8 at night to 8 in the morning, with no days off. The bread ration was 400 grams per worker. There was no other choice, however. The MTM had received orders to build a iron casting workshop, a vagranka as it was called – a large cylindrical smelting furnace – where metal ingots were cast and moulded for making shells. The resultant casts were heavy, and in order to set them on the lathe, they had to be lifted, inserted into the chuck, clamped, lined up, and then dusted off. The casts, of course, would arrive directly from the casting workshop and we would only remove surface imperfections and then do preliminary machine work. After that, they would be passed down the line somewhere else for final edging and facing. The work was hard and there was no wasted time in production. On one occasion, I was ordered to clean some automobile intake manifolds of surface imperfections. The imperfections were easily removed and I prepared the manifolds at a quick pace. I turned off my work station and found a warm generator, where – like everyone would do – I curled up and fell asleep. In the morning, the bosses arrived and found the manifolds all prepared and in order, but I was nowhere to be seen. They spent a long time searching for me, but found me all the same. I do not know how they came to this conclusion, but they allegedly accused me of being absent from my work station without authorization. I explained that I had finished everything they had assigned me, but they hammered away at me: “Why were you sleeping? There is work to be done.” I was given a six-month penalty: a 25% reduction in pay – this from wages sufficient only for buying a little bread, with nothing left over for clothing. Another time, I received a metal shaving in my left eye and I headed off to the clinic in Cheremkhovo. The eye doctor took a look, scribbled something down, and then denied me a medical certificate. He had regarded me unfavourably for not having removed my cap as I came in, and when I left, he said to me from the doorway, “You're obviously a Soviet hooligan!” I had to return to work again. Meanwhile, my entire eye turned red. I could endure it no longer, and so on Sunday I asked for leave. The factory officials could see the eye was red and granted my request. Once more, I headed off for Cheremkhovo on foot and arrived at the hospital. The doctor was not there, but there were nurses and interns on call. I wept, asking them to look at my eye. They were no more than girls, but still older than me, of course. They examined me, removed the splinter from my eye, and even showed it to me – it was such a small little thing. They found some ointment, which made my entire pupil expand, but afterward the pain ceased. For some reason, the doctor had not removed the metal shaving, but the nurses explained to me that the doctor was a German. Thus, I am grateful to these young nurses for having saved my eye.

    In January, we received notice that our father had died, having fallen during the first successful breakthrough of the Leningrad blockade, Operation Iskra. My father died on January 16th, 1943. I was 16 years old in 1943 and I cannot explain the feelings I was experiencing, most likely it was patriotism. I decided to go to the front. I went to the recruitment office and stated that my father had been killed, but they denied my request: “You're still young. When you're a little older, we'll take you”. On August 10th, 1944, I turned 17. Three of the boys in our village had received their papers for military service, but not me. Again, I went to the recruitment office and they asked me: “Well, what do you want?” I stated, “I want to be given my papers, and I will not refuse any assignment”. I went to the administration of the MTM and they granted me leave. Four days later, I was in the army. They sent me to the same town of Cheremkhovo, located some 10 kilometers from our village. There was a coal-field there at the time, and even some mines, albeit small. Generally, one simply needed to open the ground and rake up the coal. From Cheremkhvo, we boarded a train to Irkutsk and spent the night in some building. We were then shipped out east. While on the train, we received nothing to eat. Naturally, I dreamed about going west, but the situation now demanded we head eastwards. We arrived the rail station of Domna, where there was a field school for gunners and radio operators on bomber aircraft, but no one was released from the train. We were sent further down the track to the Manchurian spur line, to station halt No. 77, where the 12th Independent Communications Regiment, 12th Air Army was stationed. I was detailed to the field school for wireless operators along with some 90 other recruits who had been selected and we began learning Morse Code. We were issued uniforms, although old, and boots with foot windings. We studied at the keypad, typing out “ti-ti-ta-ta-ti-ti-ta”. You can not imagine how many dots and dashes there were, having to recognize each letter by a pattern. From the original 90 men, no more than 30 remained who were able to learn the code. I had a comrade, Vasya, who was also there. He was tapping away, “ta-ta-ta”, then, suddenly, there was solitary “ta”. I already knew what this “ta” meant: he had also made the cut. Training involved both practical and theoretical work, followed by 2 hours more individual study. It should be noted, that the instructors were very precise, and Master Sergeant Polukhin was especially strict. We were lodged on two-tiered banks, with mattresses packed with straw. I could not endure them. We would lied down for bed after 10 hours of study and then arise in the morning. Everyone would be standing, but I could not. I could not sleep at night. I would toss and turn, and then Pokhulin would yell out: “Arise!” and “Sound-off!”. He would be training us and I would start sleeping during the lessons. The commander of the field school, Captain Morozov, noticed this, and approached me, saying: “What's the matter with you?”. I told him everything, and he saw to it that I was transferred to his quarters to stoke the stove and to sleep there. After a week, everything had sorted itself out for me, meanwhile they had begun disinfecting the barracks and removed a great deal of filth from the mattresses.

    I spent 8 months studying at this school and passed the second class, but ranks were not immediately conferred upon us. It was already 1945, the war had ended in the West, while here in the East it was only just getting started. The commander of the 12th Air Army, Air Marshal Khudyakov, came by to visit us and they appointed me to be the duty officer that day. This was an important posting. I had to meet the Marshal and report everything to him in the correct manner. “Attention, school! Comrade Air Marshal, the school is on recess, school duty officer, Fedorchuk, reporting!” He offered me his hand, and commanded “At ease”. After visiting the barracks, Kudyakov dropped by the school, asking: “Well, boys, how are you getting on?”. They replied that everything was fine, but nevertheless added that the food was bad (which was true then – we were not being fed well). To this, Khudyakov responded: “Don't worry boys, soon we will be eating rice!” Here, an allusion was being made to China. We were being fed barley and frozen potatoes, which were being brought to us directly, while the cellar contained vegetables and carrots which had been unloaded during winter. For me, this was somehow sufficient, but other lads suffered greatly. Some of the boys received parcels, but who was there to send me any? My mama had been left alone in the village. No matter, I stuck it out.

    It should be mentioned that they provided us with clothes prior to the Marshal's visit, issuing us boots and British greatcoats. We also received the American-built SR-399 radio set on a Studebaker truck with the generator situated in a trailer. It was a splendid item. Although our own PTsB-3F radios were also equipped with a separate generator on one vehicle, the battery had to be started by pulling a cord. The American battery had a push button start. The engine would kick in while I sat calmly and went about my business. Following the Air Marshal's visit, we made our own way to Bain-Tyumen' in Mongolia . When we arrived in the evening, our forces already stood everywhere. A train loaded with bombs had halted at the rail station and needed to be unloaded. Who is to take care of this? So, we were sent and spent until morning unloading the 500 kg bombs. Since they were without fuses, we could safely roll them from the train car. We kept ourselves busy until morning, and began engaging in physical exercises as it drew light outside. Off in the distance, about a kilometer away, we saw a yurt. A man emerged from it and - not wanting to “lay it on thick” as they say - I found myself gazing at a savage for the first time in my life. He was covered in hides, as was his yurt. As for Mongolia itself, it was completely bare other than where our troops had planted trees. There were only hills and marmots, mice and steppe eagles. It was a wild and savage country. We were near the the fetid Kerulen river. Here, I encountered a friend of mine, a former classmate from the field school, now serving in a neighbouring unit. He exclaimed to me, “Fedya, your brother Sergei is serving in the tank forces right alongside us! It was only a few kilometers to where my friend had met my brother, but we had received the command “Get to the vehicles!” and we had to leave. Thus, I did not have the chance to see my Sergei at that time. We were to drive to the borders of Manchuria, which had been occupied by the Japanese and ruled by the strange emperor Pu-Yi. We rode in vehicles while the infantry stamped behind on foot. Ahead drove the tanks, leaving dust behind, just like in the song: “dust, yes and smoke”. Those in the infantry that could not continue would fall behind and be picked up by the approaching supply troops. It was 50 kilometers from well to well, and although the wells were deep, they were filled with icy water. At first, the infantry would arrive at a well, drink with abandon and some would even die. Later, guards would be posted at a well before the infantrymen would arrive, and despite the terrible heat and not having anything to drink, water would be issued to them a little at a time. We, however, had water in canisters. As I drove to the wireless station, I saw how difficult things were for the infantry. Driving along, we saw a soldier sitting down, carrying a rifle, greatcoat, gas mask and some other things. He could not stand and, weeping, asked us to take him with us. We were not allowed to bring anyone to the wireless station, but I could not bear it. I was already the senior radio operator, while the head of station was located somewhere forward, and I was the ranking man in the vehicle. I gave the driver, Vasilii Zhuvasin, the signal to halt. The soldier ran behind us and fell down. His glasses flew from his face. I jumped out and lifted him up, handing him his glasses while he asked we spare him something – anything – to drink. We had canisters with water and I watched as he had a drink. Having taken him along, we then considered where we could leave him before anyone found out. He had bloody callouses on his feet. Well, we decided to drive him from Samona to the assembly point of our assault force, where tanks and aircraft had taken up positions. The head of the wireless station, Second Lieutenant Shenkarovich, responded unenthusiastically at first: “Fedorchuk....this soldier...where did he come from?”. I replied, “Comrade Second Lieutenant, I could not leave him behind to die!”. Very well, it was then decided among the senior commanders to set him up as a cook. He was extremely pleased. In Samon, we arranged camp 3 kilometers distant from the Japanese outposts. A British-made AN/TPS-3 radar station was set up, and I was sent there as an already experienced radio operator in order to maintain communications with headquarters in case anything cropped up. The radar station itself looked like a small-sized dish and was set up on a Chevrolet truck. The radar operators had set up a tent with specialised instruments, which was immediately prepared for operation. We watched the skies in case of attack. True, we only detected only two of our own fighters which flew off somewhere beyond the border, but this did not concern me. Later, we were asked to find where our fighters were. The radar operators found them and I reported. “They are coming back”.

    Prior to the start of the offensive, we moved off from this position and between August 8th and 9th the entire armada of tanks and aircraft began to hum, crossing over the Manchurian border. We were awaken at 0600 hours and provided breakfast by a field kitchen. I do not know if the attacking troops were provided the same or not. After breakfast, it was announced that we were assuming the offensive and each of us were given 100 grams of alcohol. I had never drunk alcohol before, but Vasilii Zhuvasin, who had served on the German front, told me: “Drink, Fedya, drink”. He taught me how to drink alcohol by diluting it. I drank up, not knowing what would happen. Vasya had told me: “First, breathe in deeply, then drink, then breathe out”. The upshot was – I drank every drop and afterwards came snacks: newly arrived American tinned meats which were very good. The forces advanced, while we were directed to an artillery column which required a radio link. The command was given: “To the vehicles!”. We found our place in the middle of the column and immediately faced the prospect of traversing the Bol'shoi Khinganskiy ridge, in order to take the Japanese from the rear. Doing so avoided the main Japanese line consisting of strong fortifications, emplacements and underground bunkers. We quickly drove across a small river, whose course bed had likely been filled in by our forces. Forests and hills rose immediately on the other side. It was here that I saw my first dead Japanese soldier, whose body had been crushed by a tank. Japanese outposts smoldered nearby, their occupants all killed. We began climbing the the Khiganskiy ridge between August 9th and 10th. During that time, we were fired upon twice by mortars employed by either the Hong-Huzi partisans or Japanese suicide troops and condemned men who had been left behind in our rear for this purpose. They had spotter aircraft employed somewhere or other and tried to destroy our vehicle on two occasions, while we were armed with only PPSh sub-machine guns. During the first such time, we leapt from the truck and I was wounded over my left eye by either a shell fragment or a piece of rock. A doctor immediately stitched me up and being a young man I had already begun to heal after 3 or 4 days. They removed the stitches and everything was all right and there was no pain. Nevertheless, the chief of the wireless station, Shinkarovich, ordered me: “Fyodor, you will not be working at the wireless, just in case”. On August 11th, we descended into a valley on the Khinganskiy ridge. It grew hot and rain had just fallen. Our ZIS-5 trucks and lorries clambered along the hillside with difficulty, sinking and sliding here and there. The drivers mentioned that if the back of the trucks had been open, their cargoes would have spilled out. The Studebaker, however, coped well. Even if it did get stuck somewhere, the truck had a front winch with a cable. The latter would be fastened somewhere and the truck would pull itself out.

    We descended the ridge towards the town of Solun'. Since we dealt with an aviation unit, we were assigned to the airfield. We arrived with our wireless transceiver with our aircraft already standing on the field. Also on the tarmac were no less than 30 wounded men lying about on sheets. They were placed into some foreign aircraft with recesses in the wings. The doors were closed and the planes flew off to hospitals in the Soviet Union, carrying two men at a time. We left our vehicles for a chance to stretch our legs, and proceeded to walk past the rows of wounded. One of them asked to be lifted up a little so that he could relieve himself while another begged for some water. We always had water with us and we would pour out a little and then continue on our way. On one sheet was a burn victim. He was still alive, but he had no face left, there was nothing. He begged us for a swig of alcohol. We always kept alcohol for cleaning the wireless equipment, and it was stored by the head of the transceiver station. We poured a little into a small mug and gave it to him, but he died soon after and was buried. We had to continue on our way, however. We returned to our vehicles and drove off.

    I remember this event especially for what occurred afterward
    . My mother was notified later, that her son Sergei had died from wounds on August 11th, 1945. He had died here, and I was still unaware of it at the time. When I returned and met with my comrade, Pasha Lebedev, who had served with Sergei, he told me that my brother had been burned in a tank, but was still alive. He was among those who were supposed to be transported to the USSR. It was that day, that town - you understand? I have no doubt that that burned man was my brother Sergei, who was born in 1925. As they say, “From the memory of my brother I shall not stray, for my own son shall bear his name – Sergei”.

    We reached the town of Chang-Chun and on September 3rd it was announced that the war was over. Matters had still not calmed down, however. On the way, we heard about violent attacks on the part of the Hong-Huzi, and when we arrived in Chang-Chun some sort of bandit uprising had broken out. The front commander, Malinovskiy, then issued the demand: “If you do not cease this brigandage, the city of Chang-Chun will be destroyed!”. Somehow, it all stopped at once. I was already working at headquarters by that time. There was a sufficient number of radio operators and we worked only 6 hours per shift. We were set up in a cottage owned by a middle-aged Japanese man and a platoon of us radio operators lived in two wings of building. True, we slept on mats, not beds, and afterwards we would walk through the town. The Chinese greeted us extremely well wherever we went. They were poorly dressed, clad in sandals made from rubber tires. What we wore as under garments, drawers and shirts, they would walk around in wearing nothing more. Upon seeing us, they would raise and finger and cry out: “Shango! Shango!” lit. “Very good! Very good!”

    In Chang-Chun, we lived well and being young we amused yourselves - as expected. They had rickshaws there and the Japanese, who had remained behind to work, used to get around on them. We watched how the Chinese would carry the Japanese around, but we would always reverse their places, so it would be the Japanese carrying the Chinese. The Japanese would wear specialised bandannas – [Hachimaki – transl.] – and we would roundly condemn them for it. A number of worthless tires lay near our cottage and the Japanese would show up asking if we would sell them. They had yen, but they had to pay in Russian money – we would not take Japanese currency. The old men in the town would make their fortune however they could. For example, we would be walking and there would be a cupboard. We would open it, and there would be all sorts of things inside, both clothing and other items, silk for the women, whatever you'd want. We continued to be on very good terms with the Chinese. There was a kitchen set up for us with vegetables, fruit and meat – whatever one wanted. The Chinese would be asked to clean potatoes, but we would already start wolfing them down by then. I had put on 16 kg following the start of the war and the time spent half-starving in military school was already forgotten. They would make pots of boiled rice or pilaf and borscht with fresh vegetables. We would show up and start eating, discarding only the fat. Meanwhile, the Chinese would already be setting out more. They would wash our plates and leave less work for our cooks. But for all that, the Chinese remained hungry. But I will say this: heaven forbid if someone were to insult a soldier, or rob or assault him. They would get an immediate ten years and the discipline in this regard was severe. Although such cases occurred all the same, the culprits would be caught and a troika of the military tribunal would be organized. They would be sentenced to ten years in prison without discussion. I do not know, if any were released at the border or not, but from firsthand experience there was no gainsaying the strong measures used in this regard.

    I also became acquainted with a Japanese man in Chang-Chun, who lived across the road. He was missing a hand, and had nowhere to run to and no work to do. He had his own house, which was very nice. Arriving at his door, he would say, “Komito” (Greetings in Japanese). Sitting down beside him on a small bench, and with him somehow knowing some Russian and me having begun to understand Japanese, I asked him: “What is your name?” He pointed a finger at his chest and said, “Mister Hurasio!”. He then pointed at me and I responded, “I am not a mister, I am comrade Fedya!”. We met again the next day and he cried out, “Mister comrade Fedya, cigarette ide!, that is, 'let's have a smoke, mister comrade!' While talking, he told me that Japan had not attacked the Soviet Union,” to which I replied: “Yes – because we kept a large army against you”. Here in the Far East, if Germany had begun to win, the Japanese would have immediately stabbed us in the back.

    We remained there right up to the November, when the ordered arrived: “Depart”. Our radio equipment was loaded onto flatbeds, while we traveled in boxcars. The cars were small, holding only 16 men each on two rows of plank beds. There was a small stove since autumn had already begun. We traveled through the town of Tsitsikar [Chinese – Qiqihar]. We were there a long time, with work being done on the branch lines or trains arriving from different directions, heading off here or there. Thus we remained standing for a long time. But, we had our stove. We would boil something and eat tinned meat, although we preferred something hot and would run off to the field kitchen. The old hands managed to find some warm jackets from somewhere or other, and we laid these across the bunks. We would lay on them and walk around our boxcar. At long halts, we would jump out and the old hands would immediately find something to eat and drink. While the train was stopped, we would all sit and chat, and would continue when the train was moving. The Chinese would bring us chicken, milk – everything, but we no longer had any money. Our forces, however, were returning with a large amount of booty, and at one major stop there was a large hoist loading various items. We jumped out and saw a soldier standing on guard duty. There was a bale of velveteen and I asked the soldier if I could take it, explaining that we wanted to exchange it for food from the Chinese. The soldier relented but advised us to move quickly and I immediately hid it in the radio equipment. At halts, I would take a piece and head off to exchange it. The Chinese would give roast chicken, sausage, and even gave me rice moonshine, which I hypocritically accepted. While the old hands would drink, I did not enjoy it and did not drink in general – especially spirits, with the possible exception of some sake. We traveled along, enjoying ourselves, celebrating our victory and our return to Russia. We felt such delight and joy that we cried out Urrah! And do you what happened next? We did have some alcohol with the radio equipment, but we drank it all and there was nothing left. Some old hands, however, caught scent that there was alcohol in the gas cans in the officers' car and drained the canisters. At the border, they wanted to drink again, but I had already come down with malaria by then. I had probably caught it while still in Manchuria and I was racked by hot and cold spells. In the evening, my neighbours in the car would all be drinking. They would call out my name, but I would brush them aside, “I don't want anything!”. When I was cold, they would cover me with Japanese coats, and when I was hot, I would throw them all aside. They drank right until morning. Myself, they gave a little all the same and I drank perhaps a shot. In the morning, they all lay, groaning as we crossed the border. We were already on our own territory, and they about moaning and groaning. The customs guards walked past, but they had nothing special to inspect. Myself and Borya Kambulin from the Moscow region were the only ones who did not drink. The others were suffering and complaining. At one time, a telephone line ran through the car, but the connection was later broken and there was no contact with the officers' car other than running to there. At some sort of rail siding, we jumped out of the car and met some railroad workers. We explained that we had suffered a misfortune and the lads were in bad shape. The officers showed up and swore obscenities. The alcohol the lads had drunk was harmful and not for drinking. The train continued and everyone grew worse. We had a driver and electrical mechanic in our car by the name of Lakomkin. He had not been sober a single day since we had left. The lads asked us to cover them up, and as we were covering their legs Lakomkin asked: “Give me an automatic. I can't go on, I want to shoot myself!” Our weapons were kept separately and we immediately put the automatics up top and locked them up. We reached Dauriya station in Chita province. The officers came to the car once more and looked around and immediately summoned medical help. A vehicle drove up. The chief of the wireless station, Second Lieutenant Shimkarovich, came up and called out: “Lakomkin! You're plastered. Get up!” But he did not rise. The doctor came forward, touched him and said: “He's already gone cold on you!” We went ahead and removed the three lads who had gone cold. The rest were then unloaded. The last one remained behind and did not want to go and that was it. He had a suitcase crammed full of booty, which he had prepared already from the Western Front. He was to reach his destination and immediately be demobilised. He had even had a photograph taken of himself beforehand, wearing a leather coat and wristwatches - “This is all mine!” We sent the photo to his home and then dragged him away from his suitcase and loaded him onto the ambulance. They all went to the hospital, while we went on to Chita.

    Upon arrival, we were immediately sent to the “cooker”- to the bath-house. All our belts were pulled off and uniforms removed. Then we proceeded to the bath-house. A kind of ointment was then rubbed on, which burned everything. We entered the barracks and the beds were white and everything was clean. In the morning, we arose and the medical orderlies were already going about examining us for any remaining lice. This, of course, was matter of the past, but we did pick up lice there. I served a further 7 years and 4 months. They did not let us go, they did not release us. At that time, one simply tried to last it out, get up and do one's duty. True, they gave us more freedom and our pay was increased somewhat. Us, soldiers, were paid ten roubles a day and later they awarded me two stripes. However, I also engaged in a little hooliganism. We had many girl radio operators in the regiment, but they had been discharged at once, but they still remained my friends. On one occasion I wished them happy new year as an uncoded signal and was caught. This was forbidden. Everything had to be coded – five letters in a group. It would not have been understood except by signalers, but I sent it uncoded. It turned out that we were being monitored. I was transferred to another unit, where things turned out better for me. I flew on transport aircraft as a radio operator. Discipline there was not nearly the same. The pilots knew everybody and I even began to get acquainted with some young women.

    What was the predominate mood in the rear?

    My father sent me a letter from Leningrad and wrote, “My sons, join the komsomol and the party. We will smash these krauts! Everything will be ok”. I believe political information was always read in the army and my peasant father understood everything correctly. He went to war with such spirit! And we also had such spirit!

    Did you encounter any cases of market speculation in the rear?

    Are you serious? Prices skyrocketed from the beginning of the war. I bought some bread when I had that splinter in my eye, and I had to walk to the town of Cheremkhovo from our little village. My mother gave me money for some bread, more than 200 roubles, and I bought one loaf. While returning the 10 km back home, I couldn't wait and ate almost half the loaf along the way. My mother almost beat me for this.

    Was there any military training prior to the army?

    There was. They showed us how to shoot Mosina rifles – three shots per machinist and one time they even gave us an anti-tank rifle to try. It had a long barrel and a large cartridge. The recoil was very strong and the instructor advised us to hold the weapon firmly to the shoulder. They set up some sort of target, but they gave us only one cartridge. True, training occurred rarely - when we had spare time – and involved 16 and 17 year olds. Someone from city military registration office arrived to see us. He was already going on in years and wore tabs on his collar, but I did not understand what these war at that time. He taught us how to take apart a rifle and how to put on a gas mask. Thus, I already knew a little about military matters before entering the army.

    What was your attitude towards the Party and Stalin?

    I had little understanding in these matters. When I returned to the village after the army, I joined the komsomol and became secretary. Such were the times then.

    Did you encounter any White emigres in Manchuria?

    I saw some when we were leaving Manchuria. We had a long halt in Tsitsikar and me and the lads left the train and walked alongside some nearby houses. There, one woman spoke to us in Russian: “Greetings!” She invited us into her home. There was a young man sitting there, a Russian our age, who looked at us contemptuously. For our part, however, we never tried to provoke any hostility or aggression. We stayed a little while and then left.

    How did you wash? Do your clothing?

    While we were living in barracks, we would still devote ourselves to this. But during the half month spent going through Mongolia, we would wash or go into the water when it was there and that was it. In Manchuria, I would wash up at Hurasio's. He had a home-made bath, not too large and made out of concrete. He would make the water warm somehow and then leave me alone while I washed up. For the most part, we did not wash, even though we were checked up on. It did not matter though, as lice abounded. And during the 10 days spent on the train to Chita, how could one wash then?.

    Did you run into the NKVD?

    No, not one of them. What sort of questions would they have had for me?

    How would you describe the commander of your regiment?

    Volkov? I can tell you he was a very educated officer. In general, all of our commanders were top notch. They were upright, solid, polished and spoke well. I liked them very much and wanted to become their equal. Our battalion commander, Captain Pestov, was a very good officer. He did not make undue demands upon us, but neither did he allow disorder.

    Were there women in your unit?

    Yes, there were female radio operators and their involvement began before the war. Our regiment was situated next to an aerodrome and the female radio operators had contacts with the pilots. In fact, several became pregnant and were dismissed. Upon their departure, we played a march for them on hairbrushes as a joke, as the brushes would make a humorous sound when you blew through the bristles.

    What part in the war did the members of your family play?

    My older brother, Dmitrii, returned from the war as a cripple and died soon after. My father and my middle brother, Sergei, were killed. My youngest brother was born in 1930 and drafted. He began serving somewhere in Estonia with the fleet at first, and then ended up with the air force. He served for 26 years. Thus, my entire family ended up connected with army.

    How would you rate the suitability of your uniform for the hot conditions in Manchuria?

    We had one uniform – riding breeches with a tunic – and were unaware of anything better. We did not take off this uniform even in the heat. The march across Mongolia was hard on the infantry. Salt stains showed on their tunics and they were forbidden to remove them while in formation.
    Last edited by Skoblin; 28 Apr 10, 11:10.

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  • Skoblin

    All our warmth and kindness was given to the wounded...
    T. I. Obukhova
    Former nurse, 120th Medical Battalion, 111th Rifle Division

    On a March morning in 1942, twenty of us Komsomol members – doctors and nurses of the 120th Medical Battalion, received orders to make our way the through marshy swamps and bogs west of the Volkhov to the encircled positions of our division, where hundreds of wounded had accumulated.

    Loaded to capacity with medicine and field dressings, wrapped in warm clothes with gas masks at our sides, we set off on our way. The column included the komsomol organizer Anya Petushkova, nurses Shura Koroleva, Tosya Grigorieva, Vera Balabina, Katya Vasilieva, Katya Korneyeva and myself (at that time Tanya Vysotskaya), doctors Nikolai Afonin, Marukanyan, Vartanyan, and two orderlies.

    Near Myasniy Bor, we entered a forest and stumbled upon a frightful scene: the bodies of dead civilians – women, children and the elderly, apparently strafed from the air by the German vultures. My heart sank with anguish. But Anya Petushkova reassured us, saying "Do not weep, girls! Our boys will avenge these people. But we must move forward as quick as possible, the wounded are waiting for us".

    Soon after, we approached a large swamp, periodically shelled by the Germans. Our path lay through this marshy bog. We divided up into groups of five and waded into the cold water. The first two groups managed to proceed unnoticed, but when the third group reached the middle of the swamp, where the water stood waist-deep, Katya Korneyeva caught herself on a snag, and crying out, fell. The enemy immediately opened up with automatic weapons. Katya Vasilieva was wounded, though not seriously.

    Having covered several kilometers, exhausted and covered with mud and slime, we sat down for a rest. The sun peeped out at us and we wrung out our wet clothes. Having dried ourselves out a little, we continued and reached our appointed destination by the evening.

    Tents had been set up for our arrival along with a log-built enclosure with two-story plank beds. The wounded lay around wherever possible. The night drew cold and we began gathering moss to insulate the tents and little huts.

    Our work began. Operations went on day and night as did bandaging and dressing the wounded. Blood and groans were a continual presence. It is frightening to recall that horror in which we found ourselves. Constantly looking upon bloodied and helpless men, squeezing their fingers as they grew cold, looking into their fading eyes and trying to reassure them: “Hang on, just a little longer. You will get better!” And to hear in response: “No, nurse, I'm not long for this world.... Here, take this address... my son is there...”.

    A man dies and you would weep for a few moments in the corner and then return to the wounded who arrived in a never-ending stream - carried, dragged and delivered. Again, you would force yourself to smile, roll cigarettes for them with trembling hands, soothe and reassure them, while sensing their anguish...

    The food situation was very poor. Everything was supplied from the air, by aircraft. Hard biscuits and groats were dropped in meager amounts. If we were fortunate to find a fallen horse, we would make horse-meat soup. The main task, however, was to feed the wounded – by ourselves, if necessary. Indeed, we would be on duty for days on end, falling asleep on our feet, while still donating blood for the wounded. But even starving and staggering from exhaustion, we faithfully carried out our duties, offering the wounded all the warmth and tenderness which we were capable.

    The encirclement was hard on everyone, nevertheless, the soldiers managed to build a narrow-gauge railway while under fire, which we used for evacuating the wounded. The troops would push the small wagons and trolleys by hand, while we sat with the wounded and spoke to them, keeping their mind off the pain and distracting them from the gunfire.

    Outside the pocket, wondrous news awaited us: our cherished 111th Division had been promoted to the rank of a guards formation. It became the 24th Guards Rifle Division, while our 120th Medical Battalion became the 20th Guards Medical Battalion. I vividly recall the meeting of July 2nd, 1942, in which our guards' banner was solemnly entrusted to our new divisional commander, Colonel P. K. Koshevoi.

    Following Myasniy Bor, we found ourselves in the swamps and marshes near Sinyavino. Again there were wounded and again an encirclement, leading to a desperate escape with heavy losses. And again, despite of the difficulties, the medics of our battalion did their utmost to save the wounded.

    Once, while under German shelling near Sinyavino, a tent caught fire which had been used for sheltering the wounded who had been prepared for evacuation. Seeing the flames, the commander of the evacuation platoon, Anya Petushkova, cried out: “Quick – remove the wounded!” She began extinguishing the flames herself, with her bare hands, tearing away at the burning canvas. Anya suffered severe burns, but she recovered. She died in 1944, during the liberation of Odessa, and she remains in the memory of all who knew her. She was a wonderful, selfless person
    German 291st Infantry Division: Photogallery I
    Last edited by Skoblin; 28 Apr 10, 11:07.

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  • Skoblin
    Originally posted by ShAA View Post
    I'm outta reps, man! Great job!!!
    Thanks ShAA, I appreciate it!
    Here's another one:

    At the headquarters of the 13th Cavalry Corps
    V. N. Sokolov
    Former army clerk, Personnel Section, Headquarters - 13th Cavalry Corps

    I was called up to the front as a private and fought near Novgorod until the middle of October, 1941. Many days and nights were spent in the woods. The entire detachment slept on pine boughs, with one half of a greatcoat tucked under oneself, while the other half served as a blanket. Our boots were constantly wet, as campfires were strictly forbidden. We would wash with snow and then do a trepak [a Russian folk-dance – skoblin] in order to warm up.

    On 18 January 1942, I was ordered to deliver a package to the headquarters of the 13th Cavalry Corps. Prior to leaving, they issued me some winter clothing: a sheepskin coat and an old pair of felt boots instead of the tedious leg windings I had to wear.

    I reached the settlement of Proletarii, where I spent the night in warmth for the first time in six months. In the morning I rode to Shevelevo in the cab of a ZIS-5 army truck, to a crossing on the Volkhov river. The German defenses on the western bank had been broken through and we crossed the frozen river without incident. Short bursts of machine gun fire were heard to our left, as well as the occasional rumble of guns.

    The village of Myasniy Bor had been completely destroyed, with only the red-brick water tower and one little house left standing. Suddenly, there was the deafening sound of an artillery salvo: one of our guns had fired from a fir grove some 10 meters from the road. A soldier performing traffic control raised his flashlight and indicated which direction to take to avoid enemy detection. Soon after, the truck managed to leave the log road behind and, finding itself on asphalt, rushed off at top speed. The asphalt, however, quickly ended and we found ourselves lurching once more along logs and potholes. What we had thought was asphalt, turned out to be an ice road built by the Germans – a layer of sand covered with water.

    By evening, we had reached the small little village of Malye Vyazhishchi, where General N. I. Gusev had set up his command post in a tiny cottage. I handed over the package and awaited my fate with trepidation: would they transfer me to the cavalry, despite having been on a horse only once in my life? However, after inquiring about my education, I was left in the personnel section of the corps headquarters, and on the following day I took up my duties as a clerk. To be correct, however, an old sergeant, Sorokin, dealt with the clerical duties, while I was told to apprise myself of the situation and become acquainted with the units and the personnel.

    The head of the section was Technical Quartermaster 1st Rank Karabukhin – a man of hardened nerves devoid of sentimentality. My immediate superior became the clerical supervisor, Lieutenant Usol'tsev.

    The corps' three cavalry divisions advanced upon towards Lyuban'. The headquarters, meanwhile, relocated to Vditsko, and then to Chashcha. On February 11th, the cavalry reached the village of Dubovik, but was unable to advance further through the deep snow and trackless landscape. There was no hay to be had for the horses, as the Germans had swept everything clean, while under the snow was nothing but swamp void of anything edible. The cavalry could not exploit the success of the rifle divisions and assumed a defensive posture on foot.

    The corps headquarters re-located to Dubovik and remained there until the end of the operation. On February 25th, Voroshilov came to visit the headquarters and after his departure, seven German dive-bombers raided the village. The windows unleashed a shower of glass. I ran out onto the porch and saw two bombs falling right towards us, rapidly growing in size as they neared. Several seconds later two bomb bursts rang out. Wood, thatching and clumps of earth flew in all directions. The bombs fell one after the other and soon the village was reduced to a frightening picture of ploughed up earth, blood-stained snow, arms, legs, heads, scraps of clothing and shapeless pieces of human flesh. Even the most dreadful nightmare could not have presented such a specter. Several log huts were ensconced in flame, and the town was littered with vehicles, household belongings, and the bodies of men and horses. Men rushed in collecting the victims under the glow of burning fires. We lost over a hundred men that day.

    Every evening I would head off to the storehouse to obtain provisions according to the personnel record. On March 19th, however, the Germans severed the corridor for the first time and the delivery of supplies ceased for an entire week. German fighter aircraft would hunt down every vehicle, which managed to break through to the road, every wagon, and every person making their way on foot. Provisions were dropped to us by aircraft. On one occasion, a Douglas transport, fleeing from the machine gun fire of German fighters, dropped its load near a former bath-house. Sacks filled with oats and dry biscuits plummeted into the snowdrifts. The majority of them burst, and we scooped up everything, one after the other – oats, buckwheat, tobacco. We ate mostly horse-meat, shooting down the wounded horses. The remaining horses were fed thatching from the roofs and steamed birch branches.

    We became accustomed to the daily enemy air raids and wouldn't bother even leaving the hut. Karabukhin would usually announce: “Tidy up the documents, boys, while I take a nap”.

    Here, in the Novgorod district, homes were built with full-height cellars. Vegetables and small livestock would be kept in them. They could be entered into from either the house or through an insulated door from the outside. We dug a trench in the snow running from this door to the bath-house in case we had to fall back. Documents were stored in metal boxes intended for German mortar shells. During each raid, we would open the trap-door to the cellar and drag the boxes down below.

    One day it happened to be overcast, and we hoped for a respite from the air raids. Suddenly, an explosion rang out: the Germans began shelling us from 105-mm guns. They would fire several shells and then cease for an hour. Before the shelling started, we would sleep on the tables, under our greatcoats. Now we had to move to the floor.

    Soon after, I was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. With the promotion came new responsibilities – duty officer for the headquarters. The hut for the duty officer was made of planks, covered with pine boughs, and was located in the woods. It had a tiny stump, a telephone, an oil lamp, and a piece of board with a map for plotting the tactical situation...Besides the duty officer, there was also a telephone operator and communications officer holed up in the hut. The field telephone buzzed constantly with units reporting the movement of men and matériel, aircraft fly-overs, artillery strikes and so on. Everything had to be noted down and passed on the operations staff. Dozens of coded telegrams had to be sent and received. There was never a moment's rest.

    The food situation grew steadily worse. We would receive one dry biscuit per day. The telephonist would head out early in the morning armed with an ax in search of horse-meat. We would cook it without salt. It was loathsome to eat, but we ate it all the same.

    The Germans dropped propaganda leaflets. I remember one of them had a picture of Stalin's son, Yakov Dzugashvili, who had been taken prisoner. It showed him smiling, holding his hand out to a German officer.

    Often there would be booby-traps hidden among the dropped leaflets: colourful little sticks with fluttering ribbons – pretty little toys intended for the curious.

    With the onset of warm weather, the stench of decay became all the more palpable. Burial teams were organized. One night, returning from the 80th Cavalry Division, I stumbled upon a strange scene. On a snow-covered clearing, I saw corpses “standing” under the moonlight. The burial crews had placed the corpses erect in the snow so they could find them when they returned.

    On March 26th, an opening was punched through to the army and the delivery of supplies was restored. The fighting at Myasniy Bor, however, did not subside. The corridor would narrow in places to several hundred meters, and then widen out again in others. The Germans also received reinforcements – a Bavarian corps.

    In April, the 13th Cavalry Corps began withdrawing from the encirclement. Organized covering forces allowed the divisions the opportunity of departing through the kilometer-and-a-half corridor at Myasniy Bor almost without loss.
    By the middle of May, almost all the corps' units were found behind the Volkhov river, while the headquarters was engaged in evacuating matériel and documents.

    On May 17th, I received orders from the chief of staff to bring out the documents from the personnel, operations and coding sections. I was provided a ZIS-5 truck and two soldiers. We departed Dubovik and Nivki, and intended to reach the Volkhov river crossing by way of Finev Lug and Novaya Kerest'. We found ourselves at the tail end of 12 kilometer column of automobiles, tractors, lorries, ambulances, and other vehicles. Here, we became stuck, advancing only some two kilometers per day. We kept the classified documents and burned the rest. We loaded the cargo onto an abandoned trolley for the narrow gauge railway, which had been used by repair men for conveying their tools and headed out in search of food. Having found provisions for two days, we returned to find the trolley had been stolen in our absence.

    The narrow gauge railway running from Finev Lug to Novaya Kerest' had already ceased operating. A swarm of humanity had assembled near the bridge over the Kerest'. Here they unloaded wounded men, military property and equipment. The forest was stacked full of saddles, fur coats, felt boots, horse blankets, barrels and crates. Vehicles and carts slowly crawled across the bridge, carrying the sick and wounded, accompanied by crowds of Red Army soldiers. Traffic jams would constantly occur, giving way to movement once again.

    Bombers continually appeared overhead, followed by fragments of vehicles, carts, personal belongings and bodies being tossed in the air. The bridge was constantly fired upon and bursts of artillery and mortar fire were all around.

    Having crossed over to the eastern bank of the Kerest', we joined the human procession, which stretched from the village of Krechno all the way to Yamno on the Volkhov river. A wooden road was laid out through the forest and was continually being repaired by road workers. It was, however, almost completely devoid of cover as the trees in the surrounding forest had been stripped bare to their trunks. A shroud of bluish-gray smoke hung over the earth. Enemy aircraft roared past in the air, dropping bombs. The entire forest was a mass of shell holes and bomb craters.

    The road turned towards Myasniy Bor – the most narrow section of the corridor. Ahead us, hell unfolded: the rumble of aircraft, explosions from bombs and artillery shells, and the muffled bursts of machine-gun fire. The fear of remaining forever in some putrid hole in the ground involuntarily crept into one's soul. We chased away such thoughts, while glancing around whether everything seemed right... Already only five hundred meters remained, then three hundred...

    And then, there it was: the Volkhov. We had passed through 30 kilometers with our cargo and remained alive. It was May 25th, 1942. On June 2nd the Germans finally closed the door, and few succeeded in making their way out from the trap.
    Last edited by Skoblin; 28 Apr 10, 11:05.

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  • ShAA
    I'm outta reps, man! Great job!!!

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  • Skoblin
    Reminiscences of P. I. Sotnik, former commissar, 100th Cavalry Regiment, 25th Cavalry Division.

    At the beginning of January, 1942, our 25th Cavalry Division became part of the 13th Cavalry Corps of the Volkhov Front. The corps was commanded by Major-General N. I. Gusev, along with Regimental Commissar M. I. Tkachenko as commissar, and Colonel Kozachok as Chief of Staff. The 25th Cavalry Division was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel D. M. Barinov, while Senior Battalion Commissar Filippov served as commissar. The division consisted of the 98th, 100th and 104th Cavalry Regiments.

    At that time, I was the commissar of the 100th Cavalry Regiment and from 25 January to end of June, 1942, I took part in the Lyuban' Operation alongside the regiment.

    During the night of January 25th, our division went into the breakthrough at Myasniy Bor. The 98th Cavalry Regiment, with the support of the 366th Rifle Division, destroyed the enemy at Novaya Kerest' and took possession of the town without stopping. Immediately after the battle, on the evening of January 26th, the cavalrymen marched on Glukhaya Kerest', where – on the evening of January 27th – it joined battle with the enemy garrison. On that same morning, the 1st Squadron, 98th Regiment arrived at the Leningrad-Novgorod railway south of Glukhaya Kerest' alongside the regimental sappers and surmounted the embankment, while simultaneously launching a raid on the village of Chauni. Following an intense battle, our 25th Cavalry Division, with the support of the 23th Independent Rifle Brigade and ski troops, captured both Glukhaya Kerest' and Chauni. Among the captured equipment were several mortars, 6 light machine guns, 6 motorcycles, 10 vehicles with supplies and ammunition.

    Having captured Glukhaya Kerest' and Chauni, our division crossed the Leningrad-Novgorod railway. The 57th Independent Rifle Brigade along with ski troops assisted the 25th Cavalry Division in capturing the villages of Tesovo and Finev Lug, as well as the railway station at Rogavka. On January 29th, they captured Ogorel'e. The 87th Cavalry Division with the support of ski battalions occupied Ol'khovka on January 27th, followed by Vditsko on the 28th and Novaya Derevnya on the 29th.

    Operating in a north-westerly direction, the 59th Independent Rifle Brigade, subordinated to the 13th Cavalry Corps, took Gorki and Radofinnikovo. On February 6th, the brigade took possession of Dubovik, followed by Yazvinka on the 8th and – after intense fighting – Bol'shoe and Maloe Yeglino on the 10th. But, while expanding the offensive in the direction of Kamenka, the the brigade encountered stiff enemy resistance at a defensive line established along the embankment of the Chudovo-Veinmarn railway and switched over to the defense.

    On February 18th, the 80th Cavalry Division and the 39th and 42nd Independent Ski Battalions passed through Ozer'e and reached Krasnaya Gorka and on February 19th entered battle with units of the German 454th Infantry Division [probably means regiment]. The 39th and 42nd Independent Ski Battalions were ordered to establish a hold on the Sust'e – Ponyanka – Verkhov'e road, 5 kilometers east of Glubochka and to protect the operations of the 80th Cavalry Division from the west. The 80th Cavalry Division and the 1100th Rifle Regiment, 327th Rifle Division reached the line of the Sychov river and engaged the enemy.

    On February 23rd, the 46th Rifle Division and the 22nd Independent Rifle Brigade concentrated their forces on the Sychov river in the vicinity of Krasnaya Gorka.

    On February 25th, the 80th Cavalry Division continued the offensive against Lyuban'.

    During the first half of February 27th, the 39th and 42nd Independent Ski Battalions along with a battalion of the 22nd Independent Rifle Brigade were engaged in bitter fighting 5 kilometers east of Glubochka. Here, the enemy struck in regimental strength against the flank of the 80th Division, attempting to disrupt its advance towards Lyuban'. As a result, our battalions were forced back towards the east and the 1102nd Rifle Regiment, 327th Rifle Division was thrown in in order to stabilize the situation. A reconnaissance detachment of the 80th Cavalry Division reached the Lyuban' – Ushaki motor road and railway, but was halted by enemy fire.

    On the morning of February 28th, following an intense aerial bombardment, the enemy launched a strong counter-attack against Krasnaya Gorka from the direction of the Sust'e clearings and Verkhov'e and succeeded in pushing back our units. By 1800 hours, the enemy had re-established its defenses. As a result, the 80th Cavalry Division and the 1100th Rifle Regiment found themselves encircled. Attempts on the part of the main forces to break through the enemy's defenses were repulsed. The 80th Cavalry Division and 1100th Rifle Regiment, finding themselves surrounded, continued their advance upon Lyuban', dislodging small enemy units along the way. The enemy put up stubborn resistance on the south-western outskirts of Lyuban', then launched a tank attack, which pushed the 80th Cavalry Division and 1100th Rifle Regiment back to the forest. Our units passed over to the defensive and for ten days fought while encircled, while being subjected to systematic aerial bombardment and shelling. The surrounded units had no anti-aircraft defense and communications with the corps headquarters was severed due to a breakdown in the portable radios. Supplies of food and artillery shells were non-existent, and the ammunition ran out. The 80th Cavalry Division and 1100th Rifle Regiment were forced to destroy all of their heavy equipment and during the night of March 8th – 9th, attempted to break through to the main forces armed with nothing but side arms, suffering heavy losses.

    Operating on the left flank, the 59th Independent Ski Battalion, 25th Cavalry Division and 25th Rifle Brigade had captured the settlements of Konechki, Savkino 1 and 2, Glebovo, Nesterkovo and Abramovo by the end of February. By the beginning of March, the 25th Cavalry Division along with the 23rd and 25th Independent Rifle Brigades had reached the Oredezh river in the Porozhki – Pristanskoe Ozero sector, and established a bridgehead on the left bank of the river near Nesterkovo.

    Attacking in the direction of Lyuban', the 87th Cavalry Division captured Krivino, Tigoda and Chervino, but having encountered bitter enemy resistance at Krapivino, Ruchei and Chervinskaya Luka, became bogged down in unsuccessful fighting.

    Soon after, all the cavalry divisions were withdrawn to area of Vditsko, Poddub'e and Finev Lug, where the cavalry corps entered into the front reserve. From there, the divisions began to withdraw from the breakthrough by night and by March 16th, the entire cavalry corps was concentrated on the eastern bank of the Volkhov river.

    In June, dismounted cavalry fighting alongside the 65th Rifle Division made repeated attacks upon the enemy near Myasniy Bor in order to protect the withdrawing units of the the encircled 2nd Shock Army.

    On June 23rd – 24th, the 2nd Shock Army fought its way out of the encirclement. More than 15 thousand officers and men came out through our combat positions. They were half-dead and barely moving. Their escape took place under heaving bombing and continuous artillery and mortar fire. So many men perished here, that there was nowhere to stand. The whole earth was strewn with corpses and no one could tell who was killed where and where they were buried. On June 26th, when I left the fighting, 11 men remained in our regiment. I witnessed all of this with my own eyes and the offense of careless leadership still weighs like a heavy stone on my heart. The 2nd Shock Army should have been withdrawn in May, but this was not done. The commander of the Leningrad Front, Lieutenant-General Khosin, succeeded in having the Volkhov Front disbanded, but finding himself in Leningrad, he did not understand the situation, did not see the starving soldiers, wandering in waist-deep mud, carrying shells to the forward positions on their own shoulders. When Stavka re-established the Volkhov Front on June 6th, it was already too late. General Khosin, in my opinion, bears the deaths of tens of thousands of 2nd Shock Army soldiers on his conscience.

    During the fighting in the Lyuban' Operation, 37 soldiers of the 25th Cavalry Division were awarded the Order of the Red Banner, 44 were awarded the Order of the Red Star, while many more received the Medal for Bravery or the Medal for Military Service.

    At the beginning of July, the 25th Cavalry Division was disbanded, and its soldiers joined the 19th Guards Division as reinforcements, taking part in the most active sector of the subsequent operation to break through the Leningrad blockade – the Sinyavino Operation.
    Last edited by Skoblin; 28 Apr 10, 11:02.

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  • Skoblin
    Reminiscences of P. V. Rukhlenko, former battery commissar, 327th Rifle Division

    Before the war, I had worked as a political instructor for the Chernigov district party committee in Zaporozh'e province. On the day the German forces invaded our district, I was sent to Saratov province, along with other officials of the district party committee. Soon after, I was mobilized and sent to attend classes for political officers in the town of Atkarsk. A month and a half later, I was directed to the Volkhov Front.

    At the rail station of Malaya Vishera, the commander of the front, K. A. Meretskov, personally addressed us all (700 men) during the night as we entered the 2nd Shock Army. He was accompanied by member of the Military Council of the Front, Army Commissar 1st Rank A. I. Zaporozhets. General Meretskov briefly described the military-political situation and the task of the 2nd Shock Army, and then responded to our questions. We were still unaware that Leningrad had been blockaded since September 8th. Meretskov spoke about this and assigned us the task of cutting off the German forces south of Lake Ladoga and linking up with the forces at Leningrad. A. I. Zaporozhets added, that soon it would be the 700th anniversary of the defeat of the Teutonic Knights on Lake Peipus. We had the task of reminding the Germans about this bloody defeat.

    The following night, they loaded us onto lorries and drove us to the Volkhov.

    Between January 13th and 24th, 1942, the forces of the 2nd Shock Army broke through the enemy's defenses at Myasniy Bor and began to advance towards Lyuban'. The operation, however, was a difficult one from the very beginning. It was a cold winter that year, with temperatures dropping below -30 degrees. There was deep snow, swamps, and forests. All this severely hampered the activity of our forces.

    I was assigned to the 1102nd Regiment, 327th Rifle Division. The commander of the regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Mozhaev, the regimental commissar, Battalion Commissar Tsarev, accepted me and the other political officers on the spot. Tsarev instructed us: “We are at war, and during war people get killed, so take care of the men, each one of them, for we still have a long way to fight”.

    Our units broke through the enemy's defenses and raced towards Lyuban'. The enemy, however, brought the full weight of his land, air and artillery forces upon us. Many of our horses were killed as a result of the shelling and bombing and our units were left without the means of moving guns and equipment. The offensive was halted, and part of the division found itself surrounded. Significant effort was required to extricate the foremost units from the encirclement. In fact, this was an encirclement within an encirclement, as soon fare the Germans succeeded in cutting the corridor of the breakthrough at Myasniy Bor. This brought about a transition from offensive to defensive operations.

    The regimental commissar, Tsarev, summoned us for a short meeting and insisted that we intensify our political activities in the newly-created conditions, in order maintain the morale of the troops. He added to this by mentioning that the regimental command was relying upon the battery especially.

    Soon after, we received orders to combine the 76-mm and 45-mm batteries into one anti-tank group under the command of Captain Belov. There was a warning regarding the possible appearance of enemy tanks from the direction of Lyuban'.

    Captain Belov was always attentive to my suggestions. We worked together harmoniously and never had a disagreement. Once, Belov told me: “We do not have enough shells”. I replied, that we needed to rely on the men, more than just the shells. We still had grenades, automatic weapons and – most of all – their devotion to the Motherland.

    Conditions became more complicated with the arrival of spring. In March, the snow began to melt, and the swamps and bogs filled up with water. We learned that the corridor at Myasniy Bor had been cut, which made itself felt in severely reduced rations. A week later, the load to Myasniy Bor was re-opened due to the efforts of the 2nd Shock Army and forces from the main front, but the “corridor” had narrowed significantly. The Germans bombarded our supply columns from both sides. The delivery of ammunition and food deteriorated and movement through the corridor became more dangerous.

    The army command promised us that a narrow-gauge railway would be constructed between Finev Lug and Myasniy Bor. We awaited the completion of this road with great hopes, but on April 5th, the Germans cut the corridor once again.

    Within the pocket, we laid down wooden roads through the swamps, but this came at great cost, as the troops grew continuously weaker form malnutrition. Aircraft began dropping sacks of dry rations during the night, which posed difficult for us to collect. In addition, we had no salt. The general condition of the men deteriorated.

    Reinforcements no longer arrived and the situation with the command echelons in the platoons especially deteriorated. The sergeants and junior political instructors, who led the platoons, became fewer and fewer. At a meeting of political officers, I. V. Zuyev, member of the Military Council, stated that the army command would be taking measures to strengthen the command echelon in the platoons and companies. The Short courses for the training of platoon commanders were to established among the sergeants and the rank and file, who had distinguished themselves in battle. Upon completing these courses, the attendees were to be conferred with the rank of second lieutenants and sent to take up positions as platoon commanders.

    The courses were set up, but before their completion, all the personnel were sent off for breaking through the encirclement at Myasniy Bor, and few would return to their units.

    Spring made its presence felt more and more and the warm thaw became our second enemy. It became more difficult to construct shelters. We waited for warm, dry weather, but it was not to be. Lice set in, which became another ally of the enemy. To combat lice in swampy and boggy conditions was no easy matter.

    It was surprising, however, that even under these difficult conditions, there were few grumblers and complainers among the officers and men. On occasion, one would wistfully recall life before the war, how good it was to spend time at the rest houses and sanitariums, the excellent food they had and so on. During such conversations, I would cover my ears, so as not to listen and not think so much about eating.

    The work of the political instructors became more difficult. The morale of the troops needed to be maintained, and no allowance given for cowardice and despondency, which had to be countered by any and all means.

    People came down with scurvy, myself included. In order to maintain our health, the medics instructed us to make an infusion from pine and spruce needles. We drank this concoction with pleasure. We also drank birch sap and ate young nettles.

    Nevertheless, our strength dissipated – there were no more horses, and the guns had to be maneuvered from position to position. The wounded were carried on our backs – as was the ammunition. A man can endure much, if needed.

    In the second half of April, we learned that the Volkhov Front had been disbanded and that our army had been subordinated to the Leningrad Front. We were delighted to be considered as Leningraders. We were even referred to as such in the Leningrad newspaper, On guard for the Motherland, which was dropped to us from the air. But the leadership of our forces did not improve, while supplies remained abominable.

    At almost the same time, the commander of our army, Klykov, who had fallen ill, was relieved of his duties and replaced by General A. A. Vlasov. We learned about this from a newspaper which had his photograph. The Germans flooded us with leaflets, appealing to the soldiers to kill their commanders and commissars and cross over to the side of the enemy. Then they began appealing to the officers. Since I was a commissar, I was to be killed one way or the other.

    These appeals met no response, however, and we simply destroyed them. On the other hand, we had leaflets dropped from our side, signed by Kalinin, the Central Committee, the Central Committee of the Leningrad Party Youth Organization and the Political Administration of the Leningrad Front, with appeals to resist to the end and assurances that the country would come to our assistance. This was our hope.

    Soon, it became known that the initial unification of the Leningrad and Volkhov Fronts had given way to their separation once more. And once again, our front was led by K. A. Meretskov, who undertook those measures necessary to extricate us from the encirclement.

    Our situation, however, continually worsened. It was typical of the circumstances, that we did not think about death, but only of fleeing the pocket.

    One could not allow oneself to lose one's morale for one moment. Lose your nerve – and your fate would be sealed.

    Thus, on the eve of our escape attempt, I ran into an acquaintance of mine from the security detachment, Koval'. We had arrived at the front together. Then, he was a strong, handsome man with excellent bearing. Now I saw before me a hunted, frightened animal. He was unshaven, dirty, dressed in ragged clothes with his cap pulled down over his eyes... I chided him in a friendly manner, and then gave him a shave, and he once more took on a human countenance. A joyous smile appeared on his face, his eyes brightened, and he departed in the direction of Myasniy Bor with hope of success.

    We were living on meager rations: 100 grams of dry biscuits - or sometimes simply bread crumbs, 50 - 60 grams of horse meat, and during the final days generally nothing at all. Some men managed to boil up some hot water in a kettle, but the army gave out orders promising execution for those who started camp fires.

    Hungry and trying to maintain our physical strength, we ate nettles, wood sorrel, and even the leaves from linden trees. Yet it was not just hunger we had to fight, but also the enemy.

    According to regulations, I had a deputy – a young fellow by the name of Sobolev. In conversations with him, I would speak only about the future, about what we would do on the far bank of the Volkhov after we had escaped from the encirclement. One time, I made him the request, that if I was killed, he bury me in a dry patch of earth and – if possible – write my name over the grave. Afterwards, I felt ashamed for having harboured such pessimistic thoughts.

    On one occasion, Sobolev and I went off into a tall, thick forest to feed on nettles and wood sorrel. Suddenly, German aircraft began to bomb our sector. Following the bombardment, we become disoriented and encountered clearings where the the impenetrable forest was supposed to be. Heading off in one direction, we faced machine gun and rifle fire, going in the opposite direction – again, Germans.

    We had no compass, and we tried to plot the correct direction according to the bark of trees. Finally we emerged upon a familiar, planked road and saw a frightful scene: two soldiers and a sergeant had been set upon by a group of people, who robbed them of part of a horse, which had been killed during the bombardment, and then fled into the forest. We approached closer. The owners of the horse had had their hands cutup, as a result of their encounter with the thieves. All that remained of the horse was its head, legs and innards. The men were in a sorry state, nevertheless, we dared to ask them for a leg from the horse, having promised them 300 or 400 roubles for it. Having pondered for a moment, the senior sergeant ordered: “Give the senior political instructor a part of the leg”. I paid him 300 roubles, and Sobolev and I left very pleased.

    Men were driven mad by hunger. When transport planes were still dropping sacks with dry rations for us, the quartermasters were forced to set up a security detail, so that the sacks would not be pilfered or stolen.

    The sergeants and soldiers who protected these paltry rations were better armed, so that they could fight off the robbers.

    Naturally, the thought of survival never left us for a moment, nevertheless, we could not fail to be interested in the situation on the other fronts. In April and May, 1942, our forces, under the command of Marshal Timoshenko, began an offensive south-west of Khar'kov. Hope appeared among us.

    In the middle of May, our hopes rose: the narrow-gauge railway began to operate, which improved our supply situation, albeit negligibly. Fascist aircraft, however, destroyed the steam locomotives and rail cars and our sorrows returned once more.

    It was in May, that the units of the 2nd Shock Army received orders to escape from the encirclement. The time for the breakout was set at between 7 and 10 days. Our division, however, had been assigned the role of rearguard, and was to hold back the enemy forces which had become considerable more active.

    The command was given for our division to begin withdrawing between the 23rd and 25th of May. During this time, the nights were very short – indeed, the time of the midnight sun had arrived. At dusk, we abandoned our positions, which we held in the vicinity of Krasnaya Gorka, and withdrew undetected by the Germans. There were no established roads, but we had laid down wooden causeways beforehand. Both guns and munitions were carried on our backs, since the horses had been eaten long ago.

    The lack of roads, however, prevented the enemy from pursuing us. Our path of retreat led through forests and swamps in the direction of the Leningrad – Novgorod railway, in the vicinity of Radofinnikovo - Rogavka.

    Reaching the railway, we were as happy as children. We found trolleys for the guns and began rolling them in the direction of Rogavka station.

    During one night, we came across a house, which stood right alongside the railway. We settled down for the night on a wooden floor, which was a real pleasure for us.

    The next morning, we made our way along the railway and occupied a new defensive line some 3 kilometers outside of Rogavka station. Our 327th Rifle Division took up defenses around the village of Finev Lug and immediately set about strengthening our positions, although only 3 or 4 shells remained per gun.

    Belov and I were summoned to the divisional command post, where we received our requisite orders. There we fell in luck: the troops had killed an elk and we were fed meat.

    On the way back, we met the artillery commander of the 2nd Shock Army, Major-General G. Ye. Degtyarev. He walked with us through the area in front of our position and valuable advice, which subsequently proved useful. To the right of the railway ran a country road, on which enemy tanks could appear. Degtyarov advised that we arrange obstacles made from wood on this road, which could delay the enemy for some time, while we engaging the artillery against the lead tank, which would hamper the movement of the following vehicles.

    The next day, orders arrived to combine all the remaining artillery under Belov's command, while I was appointed as commissar of this force. As it turned out, the artillery should have been covering the positions of the 1100th Rifle Regiment, on the left flank of the division, rather than our own 1102nd Rifle Regiment. The commander of the 1100th Regiment was Major Sul'din, while Battalion Commissar P. I. Shirokov was the regimental commissar.

    In expectation of the enemy's arrival, I would sometimes visit Shirokov, in order to become better acquainted with the situation, since our regiments held a section of the defenses in common. Shirokov still had supplies of cereal and flour for pancakes, yet he never invited me to share his table. I never brought up the topic myself, but it still left me feeling awkward.

    Waiting for the German was a wearisome experience. In these circumstances, the Military Council of the Front issued orders that the local population be evacuated from the pocket, which had already been reduced to very narrow limits.

    The territory we occupied was cramped and confined, yet within this narrow space there were groups of old men, women, and children milling about who had abandoned their villages. The children would ask for food, but we had none to give. I would sometimes hand over 100 or 200 roubles, but what could they purchase in the encirclement? The local inhabitants would also set up campfires, which would draw the attention of the enemy and made our life even more complicated. The resultant enemy bombardments led to additional losses among our troops. The Germans would bomb us come rain or shine.

    At the end of May, the methodical withdrawal of our forces towards Myasniy Bor began. A corridor had been opened up and some of our forces succeeded in passing through: the 13th Cavalry Corps and the heavy artillery – the 18th Artillery Regiment, in particular. The wounded also began making their way to Myasniy Bor.

    The Germans had seized the last landing zone for our aircraft. We defended the villages of Finev Lug and Rogavka station, while hand to hand fighting broke out for Bankovsk settlement on our left, which lasted for several hours. Every house was fought over, and every opportunity taken to prevent the Germans from advancing through to Rogavka station. We were forced back to the pump house, located not far from train station. The commissar of the 1100th Regiment, Shirokov, asked for artillery support, but the few remaining shells were being reserved for the most critical situations.

    We had to abandon Rogavka after hand-to-hand fighting and our units were forced to withdraw further, back to the railroad siding at Glukhaya Kerest'. At the station, we caught sight of a German soldier, who was being escorted by two of our troops. This Fascist conducted himself in a provocative manner, and would respond to us with “Russians – kaput!” and “Heil Hitler!.” His kaput remark, however, led to his demise, since no one felt any reason to put up with him.

    We also abandoned the railway at the crossing point directly in front of the siding at Glukhaya Kerest'. We then moved further, along a country road towards the village of Novaya Kerest'. As a result, the trolley, on which we had been dragging the last two guns, had to be left behind. Only 16 men remained and everything had to be carried on our backs, while we continued our course.

    Our party organizer, Mel'nikov, had just recently been killed. Frightened by the shelling and the bombing, he rushed out into the open and was cut down by a mortar fragment. His duties were passed on to me.

    We managed to tap into one of the leads of a communications line, running through the area, which placed us in the midst of a conversation between the Chief of Staff of the 2nd Shock Army and the commander of the 19th Guards Rifle Division, which was operating to the left of us. The Chief of Staff gave instructions regarding the further line of withdrawal and this placed us in the right direction.

    Leaving the railway behind, we stumbled across the narrow-gauge line, which was completely inoperable. The wagons and engines were smashed, while the rail line itself was partially destroyed, which prevented its use.

    In the dense forest, not far from Novaya Kerest', we arrived at a field hospital, filled with many wounded. Near the hospital, there were large piles of felt boots, which served as a shelter during shelling and bombardment. It turned out that the shell splinters could not pass through the thick felt, thus many felt it safe to hide themselves here.

    The wounded lay wherever they could: on pine boughs, flatcars from the narrow-gauge rail line, and wooden boards from various sources. Although fed the same as us, they died from loss of blood. They were buried right there in the swamp. Holes were dug for them using bayonets and they were laid side by side in their uniforms.

    It was now 20 June 1942. Despite the warm weather, we did not feel it and still went about in our greatcoats, sometimes rolling them up and wearing them over the shoulder.

    Making our way through the forest several more kilometers in the direction of Myasniy Bor, we occupied our second-last line of defense. Suddenly, the commander of the 1100th Rifle Regiment, Major Sul'din, ran up to us and, on behalf of the commander of the 327th Rifle Division, Major-General I. M Atmosphere, ordered me to provide some men to cover the road we had just come down. This meant that the wounded we had just seen had been left to the Germans. I ended up giving him 8 men, while the rest remained behind for dragging the two guns.

    The Germans advanced hard on our heels and bullets were continuously bursting through the trees. Our commander, now Major Belov, ordered the guns destroyed, using TNT charges. It was a pity that we had to blow up the guns, but we did manage to fire off the last four rounds against the Germans. Following this, I told the men, that since we had only hand grenades and automatic weapons left, we were no long artillerymen, but infantry pure and simple.

    During this latest maneuver, I managed to see the commanders of the 327th Rifle Division, Major General I. M Antyufeev and the divisional commissar, as well as the commanders of our own 1102nd Rifle Regiment: Lieutenant-Colonel Mozhaev and Battalion Commissar Tsarev. This was the last meeting I had with them and with the exception of komdiv Antyufeev, whom we later learned had been captured, their subsequent fate remains unknown to me even now.

    And so, we took up our final defensive positions – a ditch located outside of Myasniy Bor. After this, our route lay along the escape path out of the pocket. I unfolded the map, pointed to a peat-bog and said that on the morrow we should be at the village of Kostylevo, and lucky will be the man for whom the sun shines that day.

    On June 24th, the signal was given for the breakout to Myasniy Bor. The breakout had been prepared for all the units remaining in the encirclement, but little clarity was provided regarding how they were to proceed, other than that they had to break through the enemy's defenses.

    On this day, our division was ordered to hold back the enemy so that the remaining units could enter the narrow corridor at Myasniy Bor, located a kilometer away. That night, our our territory – one and half by two kilometers – was subjected to enemy shelling from all directions and by all manner of weapons. Moreover, there was no leadership provided by either the Command or the Military Council of the 2nd Shock Army. The departure of the remaining forces was led by commanders of units and formations involved, while small groups attempted to fight their way out on their own accord. But when the enemy started shelling this mass of men at point-blank range, everything dissolved into chaos.

    Our turn now arrived to depart. We made our away across the peat-bog and after approximately 500 meters entered some scattered brush alongside other units. Here, the enemy suddenly opened up with mortar fire and Major Belov was struck down.

    We entered the corridor, which was between 300 and 400 meters wide and more than 5 kilometers long. Along both sides, rocket flares rose in the sky. We first thought that these enemy flares, but then discovered that they had been thrown up by our side in order to designate the direction of the escape route.

    We fell in at first with a column compromising the headquarters personnel and the political section of the neighbouring division, which had been located on our left, and continually encountered dead and wounded along the way.

    After roughly 100 – 120 meters, I was approached by a security officer of the same division. It seemed suspicious to him that I had a grenade on my belt. I do not know how this incident would have played out, it it had not been resolved by the head of the political section.

    Entering deeper into the corridor, it was clear the enemy was becoming more active, unloading on us with automatic weapons and machine guns from one side. The mass of men instinctively moved like a wave to other side of the corridor. Still, many of our people were killed or wounded.

    Close beside me were my assistant, Sobolev, a medic – Sizov, and an orderly – Derevyanko, while the remaining men had gone on ahead. I had directed the latter towards some smashed vehicles, tanks and other cover. It turned out, however, that these objects were being used by the Germans for correcting their fire and not without success, as evidenced by the dead and wounded.

    We sought cover from the bombs and shell bursts, dashing between large craters, but to little effect.

    What could be done? We had to make shorter dashes, resting behind small tussocks of brush or in small craters made by mortars and small-caliber shells. This was a safer method and brought us to a small river.

    Under normal circumstances, a person would construct some sort of crossing over such a small and narrow river, but there was no time for that. We threw ourselves into the waist-deep watercourse and our wet clothes became unbearably heavy. We had to drain the water from our boots, and wring out our clothes, but there was no room for delay: overhead, tracer bullets whistled by – apparently trying to find the correct range.

    Sobolev, my deputy, the man I had looked after especially, was killed. A bullet struck Sobolev unexpectedly, a meter from me. I gave him the signal forward!, but he lay still. The medic, Sizov, crawled over to him, checked his pulse, and stated: “He's dead”.

    We began to crawl out the bombardment zone and and made our way further along the corridor. Here we found new friends and companions: a correspondent for the army newspaper, Senior Political Instructor Chornikh, and the chief of staff of one of the brigades, which had been operating within the encirclement to the right of our division, near Krasnaya Gorka.

    The enemy automatic and machine gun fire began to abate, while his artillery and mortar barrages intensified. It became quite bright, and our visibility prevented us from moving forward. The Germans subjected us to pint-blank fire and we suffered heavy losses. Having made our way forward another 700 to 800 meters, there was a sudden artillery barrage from the left flank. Men reacted in various ways: some hit the ground, others continued moving.

    I was growing weaker with every step, but did not ask for help. The thought constantly rang in my head – “you must not fall behind” - and I summoned my last strength to keep moving.

    Only four us still remained. Whether we would make our way out of this maelstrom remained anyone's guess. We continued onwards. The machine-gun fire likewise grew weaker, and fewer men fell dead and wounded.

    Suddenly, an enemy battery opened up from the right flank. One of the shells landed amidst the disorderly procession of men which constituted our column. A cloud of smoke, dust and dirt swirled around and men lay prostrate upon the ground. The shell had hit nearby, in front of me. It was a testament to the right of existence, that, although being thrown back and deafened, I nevertheless crawled away. I repeat – crawled – not walked. Eventually, a kind stranger came to my assistance.

    Ahead, the corridor grew wider and wider – we had passed through. We ran into four T-34s and cheered. We found out later that Meretskov had sent the tanks along with his adjutant in order to bring General Vlasov out of the pocket.

    On the morning of 25 June 1942, the sun rose and greeted us, affirming our continued existence. Then, at an angle of 30-35 degrees off from our position and from a direction apparently occupied by our forces, we caught sight of a large group of aircraft. It seemed to us that these were our aircraft and we cheered. The aircraft, however, turned out to be German and they began a bombing run against our forces. Soon after, a second group appeared, doing the same thing.

    On the morning of June 25th, the corridor to Myasniy Bor was completely closed by the Germans, but the movement of our forces continued in various directions. Thus, the 19th Guard Rifle Division avoided the corridor and made its way through the enemy rear. By doing so, it preserved its manpower better than most formations. In war, there are necessary, but calculated, risks.

    Somehow, Senior Political Instructor Kritinin managed to provide each of us with a single dry biscuit. We were gladdened by such a gift. I knew Kritinin from before and wanted to acquire one more biscuit on the basis of our previous acquaintance, but Kritinin was implacable: “There should be a food depot up ahead,” - he promised. It seemed the worst was over.

    The food depot welcomed us as if we were family. We were examined by doctors, while quartermasters provided us with food. They even issued small amounts of vodka to groups of two or three men. Some of them had two or three shots and the result was not pleasant.

    After we had been attended to, those of us in the best condition were sent off in the direction of the Volkhov, to the village of Kostylevo. Our path led across some peat-bogs to the edge of a small wood. One of our group – a captain – had grown quite weak and we had to carry him, but our strength was soon spent, and we decided to look for a place to rest. Finding a spot, we quickly warmed under the June sun and everyone fell asleep. We slept for almost 17 hours, until roused by German aircraft. An artillery battery, which had been bombarding the German forward positions from the edge of the wood, was subjected to intensive bombing.

    But nothing frightened us anymore. We took our time, heated up some tea in marsh water, and had it with some sugar and dry biscuits we received from the food depot. We decided to make our way towards Kostylevo, which still lay long way ahead. This was the main assembly point for us.

    Luckily for us, not far into woods we heard the sound of wheels. A soldier was driving a pair of horses from atop a light carriage.

    Elated, we asked him to load the captain, who had became quite weakened. As for ourselves, we clung on the side of the carriage so as not to fall off. And thus we reached Kostylevo.

    Here, we were surrounded by medical staff, quartermasters and representatives of the Volkhov Front. We were subjected to a battery of questions, but there was one question above all: where were the command staff of the 2nd Shock Army, in particular, General Vlasov and member of the Military Council, Zuyev.

    Our only desire was to wash up and rest, however, so we directed our interlocutors to Senior Political Instructor Chornikh. Having worked for the army newspaper, we felt he would know the answers. Unfortunately, he was unaware of the fate of the army commanders. Much later, it became known that Vlasov had been taken prisoner, while Zuyev, betrayed by a policeman, was killed near Chudovo.

    In Kostylevo, I encountered Lieutenant-Colonel Voronin, with whom I served between 1932 and 1941 in the 81st OGPU-NKVD Regiment in Khar'kov. I recognized him immediately, but the same could not be said on his part: a little resembled the man I used to be. Voronin became interested and wanted to know first of all how I happened to escape from the encirclement.

    Voronin assisted me in understanding the current situation and assigned me to one of the divisions, or more accurately, the remnants of a division, where I unexpectedly became the acting chief of the political section. As I left, Voronin ordered me to keep in contact with him, but this did not occur.

    After a day riding the rails, I met the ubiquitous and all-powerful Commissar P. I. Shirokov. He managed to drop by the political administration of the Front and learned that the command of neither the 2nd Shock Army nor the 327th Rifle Division had succeeded in escaping the encirclement.

    A new division was organized and trained from the remnants of our division. Shirokov acted as head of the division's political section, while I was appointed acting commissar of the 894th Rifle Regiment. The regiment arose on the basis of the reserve battery and those remnants, which had succeeded in escaping the encirclement. P. P. Dmitriev, who had also escaped the pocket, became the acting commander of the regiment.

    Soon, mail began arriving, entire bags, with no one to receive it.

    Several days later, we read a TASS communique in the papers, that the German command had announced the complete destruction of the 2nd Shock Army. TASS refuted this report, stating that the 2nd Shock Army, like all other armies, was continuing to operate.

    Photogallery of the 4th SS Police Division - Winter 1942

    Photogallery of the 4th SS Police Division - Spring 1942
    Last edited by Skoblin; 28 Apr 10, 11:00.

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  • Skoblin
    I am in the process of establishing a number of blogs which will deal with individual aspects of the Eastern Front. The first one has already been set up and will deal with the Volkhov Front battles from 1941 to 1944. Each blog will have translations of soldiers' stories and accounts - both German and Soviet, photographs, maps and other information I have acquired. Further blogs in the near future will deal with Rzhev, Demyansk and Narva - as well as one devoted to Soviet tanks, which will incorporate the existing tank identification thread for the KV-1 and will be expanded.


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