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  • #16
    Here is the first part of another one, Egorka...

    Chernomordik, Grigorii Borisovich



    22 MONTHS IN THE BRYANSK FOREST
    My childhood years were spent in the Russian village of Pryshcha, located in the backwoods along the edge of the Bryansk Forest. The closest point of civilization was the rail station of Kletnya, which was located some 25 kilometers away. I myself was born in Novorossiysk, after which my father moved our family to the Bryansk country. Kletnya and the surrounding villages had at one time been included within the Pale of Settlement which led to Jewish families settling in the area. I do not know, though, when exactly my grandfather Moisei arrived in Pryshcha. My grandfather worked as a shoemaker and this profession was passed on to his sons: my father Boris and his brothers David and Max. Only the youngest brother, Yakov, pursued a different profession, working as a fabric cutter. My father, Boris Moiseevich Chernomordik, fought in the First World War, was awarded the St. George's Cross, suffered two serious wounds and endured a poison gas attack.

    In the 1940s, I finished 7th grade at the local school and left for study at the FZU (Factory Training School) in the town of Bezhitsa. This was decision undertaken by my family, as there was no other option. There were five people in my father's family, and I – as the oldest – had to obtain a trade to help raise the young ones. In the following January, the FZU was reorganized as the RU (Vocational School). The state then provided all 1200 of us with full support, giving us uniforms, food and shelter.

    JUNE 1941
    At the end of June, the 1200 of us students were sent off to dig an anti-tank ditch in the forest. A large numbers of persons had been assembled, but there was little order to be seen. For our group of forty lads – all future lathe operators – only ten shovels had been handed out, which were continually being bent and broken and needed constant repair. Worse still was the food. We had been provided with barley, but with no means to cook it. By the third day, we could barely drag our feet from hunger. Ten days later, worn out by hunger and hard work, we were brought back to the school. Those who were in the strongest shape were to be assigned work in the military factories. To our delight, we were immediately sent to work in machine shops, instead of being shunted off to the army. Previously, we had not been permitted to get close to the military workshops, but we were suddenly provided with special passes and began honing the tips of artillery shells. July passed by and the situation at the front grew terrible. The army was retreating and the population fled eastwards. Reports from the Soviet Information Bureau made vague references to desparate battles being fought, but provided no specifics regarding where this fighting took place and what was the outcome. The town was rife with rumours, one more frightening than the other: “....we've heard the Germans have captured...,” followed by the name of some town, possibly still in the hands of our army, yet already doomed... The front line approached Bryansk and a recurring wave of refugees went through the town, alongside the retreating army. There were three of us: myself and Isaak Gusakov – both seventeen years old, and our friend Kostya Beselov, who was sixteen. We decided to join up with a partisan detachment, which had organised itself in my village of Pryshcha. I had found out about this when my father had obtained a weapon – an old British Winchester rifle with several cartridges. Father kept an old Nagan revolver in the house, along with a bag full of shells, and I knew where they lay. We finally decided to head off for the front on the same day that our classmates were to be loaded onto a train along with the school equipment for evacuation to Novosibirsk. We gathered our things in the night and clambered down an outside pipe from the dormitory floor. We stood a short while in the dark and then set out “on the military path” - that is, we headed towards the train station and left in the direction of Kletnya. The train proceeded for several stops and then halted: further movement was allowed only on military trains. On the morning of August 7th, we approached the station of Zhukovka, which had a branch line heading to Kletnya. From there we had to make our way a further 42 kilometers, including two railway bridges over the Desna river. Approaching the first bridge, a threatening voice came from the bushes - “hands up!”. I pushed the bolt forward and shoved a bullet into the chamber of my rifle. We halted and two Red Army soldiers with rifles came up and forced us to lay on the ground. They summoned the head of the watch and we were sent to the headquarters of a rifle regiment by armed escort. There they started to question us, “Where were you lads heading off to?”. To our relief, however, we recognized a familiar face at the command post – one of our former teachers from the vocational school. They immediately provided us something to eat. The regimental commissar, learning that we intended to reach Pryshcha in order to join the local partisan detachment, grinned and suggested we join their regiment as volunteers. We discussed it amongst ourselves and agreed – but under one condition: that we be sent only on reconnaissance. The commissar did not object. And thus, we three untrained lads – Isaak Gusakov, Kostya Veselov and myself – became scouts for the 991st Rifle Regiment, 258th Rifle Division. The other scouts and Red Army personnel welcomed us warmly, familiarized us with weapons, and taught us various means of mastering their use. Our platoon was armed with old Mosin 'trilinear' rifles, equipped with three-sided bayonets, which left serious wounds requiring a long time to heal. We were then told that this type of bayonet had been forbidden by some sort of international convention, and if the Germans found us with this sort of bayonet we would be killed on the spot...

    In addition to these “trilinear” rifles, our reconnaissance platoon was also armed with 10-round semi-automatic SVT rifles, which were uniformly hated. The rifle would jam when even the slightest grain of sand were to fall into the chamber. Thus, the troops christened this 'capricious' ten-round rifle “the socialite” due to its delicate nature. There was also one Degtyarev machine-gun for the entire platoon, and not a single automatic weapon, even though we were referred to in loud and fine tones as the unmounted regimental reconnaissance platoon. True, the regiment did have two automatics, one with the regimental commander and the other with his orderly...

    RETREAT
    The situation at the front grew steadily worse. Various rumours swirled around, which made their way furtively among the rank and file. There was talk of changes among the senior command staff. The threatening clouds of war drew closer and the situation grew more alarming by the day.

    Finally, the phrase was uttered: “they have betrayed us, we are surrounded...!” A frightful retreat began. This took place during the second half of September. At the beginning there was still some semblance of order. The column made its was in one direction, moving day and night. It was especially difficult to pass through the villages during the day. Young women with children and the elderly would line the road. Many were weeping and screamed after us: “Cowards! Traitors! Why are you abandoning us!?” We walked past, afraid to lift our faces. We were pained and ashamed, and we were comforted only by one thought: that we, the rank and file, were not responsible. We walked day and night, while off to the sides and in the rear explosions resounded and fires raged forth in the territory being left behind. The army command had ordered everything that could be blow up be demolished. Grain fields, stacks of hay and collective farm buildings burned around us.

    To us, scouts, it seemed during these days that the command was taking out all of its anger over the situation on us. We were sent off on various assignments to no purpose and would return from one only to receive new orders to carry out another assignment. We were left exhausted and food rations were meager in those days. During the day we were given three dry biscuits with a one-liter jar of tinned rations – mostly “beans and meat” - provided for two men each. To our misfortune, the jars were glass with rolled metal lids. Opening such lids was difficult and in the majority of cases they were broken and had to be thrown out. We even dare not pick out pieces of meat from the shattered glass. Towards us came herds of cattle, sheep and pigs being driven to the west by collective farmers. Why were the heading in the direction we were coming? For whom? None of us soldiers could understand why this was happening. Still, we were forbidden to seize any livestock under pain of death. On one occasion, while on a halt, some herdsmen approached our platoon and suggested we take a sheep which could no longer go on. One of the soldiers headed off and cut its throat. But before we could shove a single piece of meat into a pail, a lieutenant from the Special Section ran up with his assistants. Apparently, a 'snitch' had managed to report everything. Having lined us up, the lieutenant announced that this soldier had stolen a sheep, that he was a looter and must suffer punishment according to martial law. The lieutenant the executed the hapless soldier, right there before our eyes...
    We walked for days. Men could not bear the strain and fell asleep while on the march. During this shameful retreat, we were often bombed from the air and sometimes even caught by enemy artillery. The troops grit their teeth in impotent anger and cursed everything under the sun. The Germans, however, were nowhere to be seen. Even us scouts had seen no sign of them. It was frightful and humiliating, such a mass of men – three armies, equipment, and enormous stores of munitions and provisions – fleeing from the enemy day and night, not knowing where they heading. To our grief, we lost our friend, Kostya Veselov, somewhere during the night and he was not seen again. Isaak and I searched for our friend, but it was useless. We remembered how us three used to box and lift weights together. Kostya and Isaak studied at the blacksmiths in group K-8. And now our Kostya was gone...

    Next came Isaak's turn. He was from Unecha, in Bryansk province, and was a good, reliable friend. If he promised something, it would be carried out without fail. He was a stout fellow of medium height. Generally, a man of few words, yet he could recite Pushkin, Lermontov, Blok and Nekrasov for hours from memory. Now, I was left alone....but I carried on...
    In the confused environment, my friends had vanished without a trace. After the war, I went to Kletnya, thinking that someone would know the fate of my comrades, but know one knew anything...

    We were driven towards the Resseta river, clambering into the impenetrable swamps in the area. Nearby flowed another large river, likely the Desna. We found ourselves on some sort of peninsula. The river lay nearby, but it was impossible to collect any water and bring it back as German snipers raked the shore with gunfire. Along the river bank, floated the bodies of dead soldiers and horses, and the water itself had a rosy hue from the blood of the fallen. We prepared to retreat once more. I saw the gunners blowing up their heavy weapons, including the army's katyusha launchers. The order came down to assume the defensive, but the location chosen by the command turned out to be highly unfortunate. Orders were orders, however, and there was nothing else that could be done. The place was in the shape of a peninsula, with the rounded course of the Desna on one side and crooked little Resseta with its marshy banks on the other.

    It so happened, that a large number of infantrymen, engineers and horses had assembled on a small promontory and offered a wonderful target for enemy fire. Not a single German shell was wasted; every bullet found a mark. Shell fragments from the bombardment rained down upon our heads. The situation was frightful, the wounded and the dead lay side by side, but no one paid any heed. The medical services were inactive and the field hospitals were already overcrowded. The horses, driven mad by the thunder of the guns and the explosions, crippled and maimed the men in their way. Not even the trenches could offer protection. It was a true hell.

    At that moment, our platoon commander was summoned to the regimental headquarters. He returned with a gloomy look and said, “We must search out a place where our regiment can break through the encirclement.” It was clear, however, what this meant: there was no order left. Every unit for some reason was operating on it own and now had to make its own way out of this cauldron. We hit the road.

    God forbid one had to endure this again. Overall command had broken down, and columns headed off in opposing directions. Machine-gun and automatic fire rang on all sides. Turmoil and confusion reigned. We stepped over the wounded, who begged to be finished so their unbearable suffering would end. Senior commanders doffed their uniforms and hid among the rank and file. I saw one officer with diamonds on his collar pull out a pistol and shoot himself in the temple. Men sought cover inside and alongside the woods, but German artillery and aircraft gave them no respite. The Germans operated skillfully and methodically, dividing the landscape into sectors and subjecting each sector to systematic bombardment...

    It is difficult to put this nightmare into words. It was a terrible thing that such a mass of men and equipment turned out unmanageable. Everyone was shouting indignantly, no one listening to anyone else... Our unit was sent off on assignment once more, although the platoon had now lost over half of our comrades, including those who were seriously wounded. Despite this, however, we faithfully observed the traditions of the scouts: the fallen we interred in the earth and the wounded we carried with us – each wounded man borne by four of his fellows.

    Seeing a horse with saddle but no rider in sight, I obtained permission from our platoon commander, Vavilov, to try to catch it. I reckoned we would be able to free up four men who were carrying a wounded scout. But while I was catching the recalcitrant horse, my reconnaissance unit departed. It was now October. It quickly drew dark and a fine cold rain began to drizzle. I had to find somewhere to bed down for the night. I broke of some branches in the darkness, and making a mound, lay down to sleep. I was wet, cold, hungry and frightened. It was a very long night and my greatcoat quickly became soaked... When dawn arrived, I left the horse behind and went off in search of my unit. I caught sight of several men sitting around a campfire and they called me over and began asking me questions. Most important, however, they gave me something to eat (it has stuck in my memory that this was the first time I tried condensed milk).

    I set off after my unit once again. By the middle of the day, I stumbled upon a large abandoned transport column, comprised of numerous wagons and vehicles. Several carts stood with horses still harnessed to them. I was very fond of these animals and could not look upon them, standing there hungry and I started to unhitch them.

    At that moment, artillery shelling began. Everything was tossed in all directions, but I continued to unhitch the animals. On one cart, loaded to the brim, I found rolls of flannelet for foot bindings, and under them were hundreds of pairs of boots. I chose a good pair of boots for myself and cut of a piece of flannelet for leggings. The abandoned transport was full of food, clothing and ammunition – was all this to be left to the Germans?! I almost went mad with the thought. What was happening here? We walked starving hundreds of kilometers, living on dry rations and here was everything one's heart could desire – and all this was to be left to the enemy? No, I could not allow this! My eyes fell upon a crate with molotov cocktails. I seized as many of them as I could and went to the front of the transport column and started tossing them into the wagons and vehicles. Fire shot up where the bottles had burst and the wind carried the flames aloft. From one vehicle I took ten packets of tinned meat and some chocolate bars, stuffing them into my knapsack. The flames, meanwhile, had reached the ammunition and explosions began to resound. The fire spread between 500 to 700 meters. Everything burned, crackled and burst. Shell fragments whistled through the air as if it were a regular bombardment. I headed off and in good time too: German troops began to appear along the edge of the forest. Four hours later I finally stumbled across my unit and in I my joy I forgot to tell my comrades what I had done to the transport column. This saved me, for as things turned out, someone had seen a young soldier set fire to the wagons and vehicles. One of my comrades responded by saying: “If I get a hold of this reptile, I will crush him with my bare hands! So many good things gone for naught!”. We spent the night in the woods and then once more headed off towards the east, not knowing where we were going. In the end, we ran into an ambush. This occurred on October 12th, 1941 and I remember this date well.
    Last edited by Skoblin; 29 Nov 09, 14:32.

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    • #17
      Great work!
      I just finished it in Russian for few days ago. Quite harsh...
      Kind regards
      Igor

      * My grandfathers WW2 memoirs - Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, 1944-1945.
      * On the question of "2 mil. rapes" by RKKA
      * Verdicts of RKKA Military Tribunals for crimes against civilians in 1945

      Comment


      • #18
        Here is a small, but relevant note on the subject raised in another thread.
        Aleksey M. Batievsky
        Hero of Soviet Union, Pilot (IL-2). link

        It was difficult get to my home town - no public transport. My mother wellcomed me back. Our neighbour, the grandfather Ivan, showed up to greet me ( authors relative ). A good man - he adopted 2 orphans. They did not have children of their own and adopted orphans. We talked while having tea and then I went to bed.
        In the morning the grandfather puls my leg: "Get up! Victory!"

        I got up and went to the market square of the town. ... When I came there an inprovised platform had already been risen. Everyone was there - crowded. Everyone was crying... The war is over, but people were crying... A large crowd. My granddad was there too. Out of 6 brothers 5 KIA and the on 6th one no information for long time. And also no info about my uncle. Back then we did not know where and how he perished.

        Later we learned that he escaped from the German captivity and ended in the American army. There he was immediatly given a rifle and sent to fight... He was KIA...
        Kind regards
        Igor

        * My grandfathers WW2 memoirs - Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, 1944-1945.
        * On the question of "2 mil. rapes" by RKKA
        * Verdicts of RKKA Military Tribunals for crimes against civilians in 1945

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        • #19
          Probablly no indication of where the Uncle was when a prisoner, or when liberated. Still it is another bit to build on. One wonders in this case who "ordered' the prisoners to take up arms. I suspect there was at least a strong personality amoung them if not a formal leadership committie.

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          • #20
            No indication of who "ordered" the former prisoners to tke up arms. I would think there was at least a strong personality amoung the group, or more likely a committie of some sort.

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            • #21
              Doesn't really fit this thread, but I found it to be interesting.

              Social add for German occupied territories of Soviet Union, 1942:

              Kind regards
              Igor

              * My grandfathers WW2 memoirs - Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, 1944-1945.
              * On the question of "2 mil. rapes" by RKKA
              * Verdicts of RKKA Military Tribunals for crimes against civilians in 1945

              Comment


              • #22
                one more...
                Gregory D. Vodiansky
                Airborn Brigade link


                Q: When were the concentration camp inmates liberated?

                A: On the 7th of May 1945 Americans entered the camp. We immediately rushed to chase the guards. They were killed on the spot, but some of them were saved by the Amricans. They locked the German camp guards in one of our barraks and did not let the former POW to kill all of them.

                Now we were free and there weren’t a single household in the area that would not had invited a former POW into their house. I together with three mates was invited by Elsa Erijen, where we were warmly welcomed, fed, given clothes and shoes and game more gifts to take with us home. But all these gifts were confiscated by the NKVD upon arrival to the Leningrad sea port, the very same day when POW returned to the Motherland.

                Q: Were there any POW that decided not to return to USSR?

                A: Yes, quite a few. Norwegians proposed us to stay, and then American agitated not to return to Russia. They promised anyone to send any place he wanted – America or Western Europe. Americans said right away that because of our captivity no one would be pardoned, ad if not shot, then sent to Siberia as we were still considered to be “Motherland’s traitors unfaithful to one’s military oath”.

                Among our POW camp in Bergen no one became a traitor. We didn’t even have any POW in the camp police unit. And when Vlasov army deputies visited us no one left with them! But no one of us was expecting that back in Russia we would be just sent to our homes either. Because we all knew that Stalin considered all ex-POWs as traitors. Some gave it a serious thought and took the Americans offer. But to me personally my Motherland was above everything else. The Soviet officers arrived to Bergen in the beginning of June. They commenced assembling a list of all who was to be repatriated. I also signed in under the second name Gurin (note - alias assumed by the veteran in order to hide his Jewish identity while in the German captivity).
                Soon a large group of POW was transported to Oslo where they joined another several thousands people group expecting repatriation. There were many who were sure that upon arrival we woild either be shot or given a 15 years labour camp sentence. Soon I was inclined to think the same, but did not see any other way forward for my self.

                The ship docked in Leningrad. Groups of 100 people were taken to the dock, lined up behind the port buildings away from the stranger eyes. There all our possessions were taken from us including the gifts we received earlier. We given old used uniform to wear and shoes and escorted by the guards to the railway station, where we boarded goods cars and rolled to the filtration camp in town of Murom in the Valdimir Region.

                From the first second of return to the Motherland we were treated like traitors.

                Q: How was the filtration conducted in the Murom filtration camp?

                A: We were lodged in the barracks on the empty wooden plank beds.
                There was no physical punishments or such applied to us. But all the time we could hear threats from the guards and the investigators. During the first days the “suspicious” individuals were separated, as well as the officers from the ranks.

                The investigators were calling in people one by one for a thorough interrogation. After about a week my turn came. The first thing I heard from the investigator was: “Are you Grigory D. Gurin? Take a sit, traitor! Tell us where and when and how you surrendered to the enemy?”
                I replied: “Well, I am OK standing. And my surname isn’t Gurin but Vodiansky”. His reaction was promt. He jumped up and said right into my face: “Are you implying that you are a Jew? Then tell me how you, a Jew, managed to survive in a German concentration camp?” Then I presented my detailed account naming all the units I was serving in RKKA, objectives our Airborn Brigade, the circumstances of my surrender (I was injured) and that there are two alive witnesses to it.

                When I ended my narration, the investigator was silent for a while and then said: “Well, you dismissed for now… For now… Expect the next interrogation session.” After two weeks the guards called me in again. Unlike the first session he was friendly. He offered me a chair. Then he asked me strictly: “Why did not you let your parents know that you are back and healthy?” I said that I did not know their whereabouts. They were evacuated to Cheliabinsk, but it was two years ago. The investigator replied: “We pulled some strings and found out that your parents live now in Ukraine in the town of Herson.” He gave me the address and told me to get in touch with them. At the end of our talk he said: “Expect to be called in again, but next time it will by other people.” Yes, next time I was called in by people who arranged the job placement fro the ex-POWs in the civilian sector. I received the temporary ID card, whish stated that I passed the filtration and is cleared, that I am a Soviet Union’s citizen and have right to vote.

                I was sent to town Rostov to work on the limbering enterprise. On the 10th of June 1946 I left that work place and headed to town of Herson as a free man. But after arriving and as soon as I registered I was again called for a talk to the local State Security Department office. These continued for several months. The common civil passport I received only after 6 months.
                Last edited by Egorka; 20 Jan 10, 16:30.
                Kind regards
                Igor

                * My grandfathers WW2 memoirs - Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, 1944-1945.
                * On the question of "2 mil. rapes" by RKKA
                * Verdicts of RKKA Military Tribunals for crimes against civilians in 1945

                Comment


                • #23
                  About how "Katysha" aims...
                  Aleksandr F. Panuev
                  Officer in a Guards Mortar unit link



                  Q: Did you have a howitzer for zeroing in?
                  A: No need for it.

                  Q: So you mean it was available but not used?
                  A: No. The howitzer was only given to Flerov's unit due to lack of experience (red. Flerov - the commander of the first Guards Mortar unit). Naturally it was practically never used. It is because we quickly realized that with the given magnitude of dispersion it is quite difficult to miss the target. The barrage order comes from either battery or regiment commander. I am always asking about dislocation of our forces and the concentration of the enemy forces. I need a big target, I am not going to target a machine gun nest - we have normal artillery for that. My target is concentration of infantry. An enemy battalion concentrating for attack, that is my target. Or tank battalion advancing to attack position. Or something else big, like supply depot. Such target are easy to cover considering the salvo spreading across 20-30 hectares. So the howitzer has no meaning. The good salvo spreading and precise map - all you need.
                  ...
                  If you want to hit the target with conventional artillery, then the artillery commander first tells you that he has not data and he needs to zero in on target. This is the signal to the enemy to seek cover. Taking cover takes 15-20 seconds. So maybe 1-2 shells will land on the enemy position before they take cover. But I can send 120 rocket in the same 15-20 seconds. This worked well in 1941 and 1942. But in 1943 the Germans went to defensive war. So the first and second German lines dug in and our M-13 rocket was useless. We could be effective agaist enemy artillry positions as they were not dug in. Also against large structures like large command centers - to disrupt communication lines. Against reserve units and rear supply units - those usually are softer targets. But for braking through the first lines we needed a heavier rockets , such as M-30 and later M-31.
                  Kind regards
                  Igor

                  * My grandfathers WW2 memoirs - Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary, 1944-1945.
                  * On the question of "2 mil. rapes" by RKKA
                  * Verdicts of RKKA Military Tribunals for crimes against civilians in 1945

                  Comment

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