When I recovered I rejoined my brigade. This happened in late April 1942, it was already warm. On my way I stayed overnight at some trans- shipment point. There were tents on a hill and two U2 planes nearby. There were girls from the medical battalion of our brigade in the tents. They were singing, 'Sweetheart, will you hear me,' with such lament that this song is imprinted in my memory. After the war I was trying to ask the women from our brigade at our veterans' meetings: Who sang this song then? But I never found those girls. Finally I got to my battalion and from there I was sent to be first sergeant in the battery of 120mm mortars. I got an intelligence unit in my command and received a stereo telescope. I was to sit at the observation point looking for targets and reporting to the commanding officer, who identified the coordinates, range, angle and other data. I had a stereo telescope throughout the war; when one broke down in a battle I got a new one.
See text in interview
We happened to be in defense at this same Hill 101, but behind the hill there was some smoke appearing every day. We discovered that this smoke was shooting. It turned out that the Germans were sending an armor train from Taganrog and it was firing periodically. We fixed it finally and covered it with our firing and it didn't reappear. In general it was quiet and the Germans left us alone. We lived in earth huts. There was no wood and we thought of heating the huts in the following way: we took a brick soaked in gasoline, burned it in an iron cast pot and it burned for a while heating the hut. We lit the earth hut with a makeshift lamp from flattened out shells. We made a hole on the side to pour in kerosene. We inserted a piece of cloth torn off our overcoats to serve as a wick in its narrow part. These lamps emitted lots of smoke, but served their purpose.
We were fed well: millet porridge, sometimes we got meat, and 150 grams of vodka every night, officially, but it was always more actually. It was believed to be a normal thing to cheat on the rear unit. Every day it was necessary to submit a report for meals for a specific number of people, because sometimes the deceased remained on the lists and their food rations were received and shared among the others. Officers received additional food rations. I was first lieutenant and received cookies, sugar and tobacco additionally.
Soldiers were given makhorka tobacco. We made 'goat leg' cigarettes from newspapers pieces. There weren't many matches and we lit cigarettes with fire steel. We borrowed cotton wool and manganese from nurses, absorbed cotton wool in manganese solution and dried it out. When a piece of such cotton wool was placed on the fire steel, the sparkle lit it instantly and then we lit cigarettes from it. At first I didn't drink or smoke and used to exchange my vodka for sugar, but I was freezing in the trench. The others smoked and had a drink and seemed to feel better. So I also began to drink my ration of vodka and smoke, and it became easier to endure the damp trench, but it was still cold.
We had warm flannel underwear: a shirt and underpants and a uniform shirt and trousers over them. We wore sailor caps at first, but later we got winter hats and wore knitted headpieces underneath. We also had sheepskin liners to wear underneath our winter coats; they warmed us well. The boots with leg-wrappings that I wore till 1943 didn't help against the cold. Those wrappings were a problem to me. You drop the end of a two-meter long belt, it rolls away and you have to crawl around looking for it and then roll it up again - a terrible nuisance. In our pastime everybody told stories. Older soldiers told fables of their frontline love adventures. Everybody boasted as much as he could. We often read letters from home aloud - everybody was interested what was going on in the rear.
When the Germans forced a crossing over the Don River and approached Stalingrad, we got the order to retreat in the direction of Rostov. We had to cover about 60-80 kilometers. The Germans were following us. A few kilometers away trenches had been dug for us and we had hardly managed to get there, when German tanks started to attack us. All of a sudden a pack of dogs with triton blocks attached to their backs ran past us. There was a starting lever sticking from their belts - they hitched the bottom of a tank to this lever and the tank exploded. Of 40 tanks 30 exploded, and the rest of them left. It turned out that there was a company of tank fighters behind us. The female trainers fed their dogs only under an operating tank and developed a trained reflex in them. We felt sorry for the animals, but what could be done about it, at least the attack was repelled.
When we came to Rostov to cross the Don, I saw an incredible scenario: vehicles, horses, wagons, tractors, combines, people, and cattle were moving along two crossing ways continuously bombed by Germans. They didn't just drop bombs, but shot through empty barrels whining so loudly that each barrel seemed to be falling on you. You press yourself to the earth to hide away, hear something falling nearby and wait for an explosion, but nothing happens. The main crossing was on a pontoon bridge. Everybody stepping on it began to run fast. There were bombs exploding on the right and on the left, raising fountains of water; some people fell into the water - a terrible sight. Somehow we managed to do the crossing.
On the opposite bank, walking a few kilometers in the direction of Bataysk, we took a defense position. My observation point was on the roof of a house in the nearest village. I was doing observation of the locality and at dawn I saw Germans marching in a row in a ravine from Bataysk. I reported to my commander of the battery about this and he reported to higher officers. At this time the Germans bumped into our outposts and exchange of fire began. Half an hour later a group of Germans on ten motorcycles arrived. There were two machine guns on each motorcycle. Our resistance didn't make sense any longer and we were ordered to retreat. Where to? The only possibility was to head to the flood-lands, and there were reeds, sedge and waist deep water. I was making my way through the reeds with my stereo telescope. All of a sudden I felt something hitting my arm. I dropped the telescope and somebody picked it. There was blood all over my hand; the bullet injured a tendon between my big thumb and forefinger. It was a trifling wound and under different circumstances I wouldn't have needed to go to hospital, but I had it bandaged in the water, probably with dirty bandages that caused festering. I had a lot of trouble with it for about a month and a half. We were retreating. Finally, I was sent to a hospital near Tbilisi [today Georgia]. They promptly treated my hand and from there they sent me to an artillery instrumental intelligence school in the town of Manglisi near Tbilisi.
This was a division of the Makhachkala town military infantry school training geodesists and survey engineers, i.e., those who could picture a location layout with theodolite and find orientation with the help of a stereo telescope. When I finished it in the middle of September 1943 I was sent to the front line in the 55th guard division, 66th guard rifling regiment under the command of Glavatskiy from Odessa. Our division was to head to the Taman peninsula [Western Caucasus between the Azov and Black Seas] to the Strait of Kerch [connecting the Black and Azov Seas]. There are many lakes, swamps, reeds and canals there. The firth Kyzyltysh [one of the numerous firths of the Azov Sea] was separated from the sea by a split where we were to land to cut a retreat for Germans. We landed successfully; the Germans didn't notice us and began to retreat along the split, when they bumped into us. During a battle something went wrong with the radio holding communications with the army headquarters. Then a plane dropped a message from the commander of the army, Petrov, for us: 'We don't know where you are. Make an identification sign on your front line.' We made a line from pieces of white cloth, whatever we had at hand, to show them the location we were at. We held the Germans back and stayed there quietly till late October.
On 4th November we were put ashore across from Chushka, a split at the end of the Taman peninsula; this area was called Malaya Zemlia. I stayed with the artillery on the main land. I began to send data about the targets and did it well. I don't know how I did it: we had learned calculations, but here intuition was more important. Our troops captured a part of the Kerch peninsula, but the Germans had a well fortified defense line and they stopped us after we had covered about twelve kilometers of the Kerch peninsula. Despite this we were in good spirits probably thanks to political work. There was a political officer in each company whose only mission was to trigger discussions telling us what we were to do and how, what we were fighting for and whom we were fighting - this wasn't a mere formality and it had its effect on soldiers, lifting their spirits and uniting them. We went into battles with the words 'For Stalin, for the motherland, straight on!' Of course, there were deserters. Once, when we were remanning, our brigade was ordered to line up in a U-order and two individuals were demonstratively shot for desertion. Once, additional staff of Azerbaijani arrived. They didn't know Russian and didn't want to fight whatsoever. They ate some herb on purpose, it caused diarrhea, and it was terrible and everybody wanted to get rid of them. They were sent to a medical sanitary battalion and I don't know what happened to them then. They never returned to us.
I took part in a landing operation. On the evening of 9th January we went into the Azov Sea. We had the so-called anti-yperit high boots. At night, all of a sudden a storm broke and our boats, long boats and schooners were scattered all around. Half of the landing troop disappeared, some drowned and some were dragged into the sea; they were found two weeks later. I fell into the water, my stereo telescope got wet and I got wet in the chest-deep water, the temperature of which was only four or five degrees. What saved us was that the seashore wasn't far away and the water was shallow. When I reached the seashore, the commanding officer yelled, 'Drop your stereo telescope, grab a machine gun - there are Germans moving along the shore, we have nobody to shoot back at them!' I grabbed a machine gun and joined the others. We managed to repel the attack. In this battle Nadia Leschina, Glavatskiy's wife, who served there with us, demonstrated heroism. Mariners were fighting with us and Germans sent tanks to where they were, and the mariners began to retreat. Nadia all of a sudden got to her feet and shouted, 'Guys, follow me! Go ahead!' The mariners felt ashamed that they got scared and the woman was not and they repelled this tank attack. For this battle Nadia was awarded an Order of the Combat Red Banner .
In those days I was thinking of joining the Party. I talked to Zakharov, the Party leader of our regiment. He talked me out of it, 'If you join the Party, they will send you to the hottest spot and you will perish for nothing. You are important for us and we need you to be here with us rather than somebody else.' Our division moved to the village of Varenikovskaya to relocate to a different front. There were many troops, tents, cannons, and lots of people taken to this railroad junction. All of a sudden somebody noticed a hare running from God knows where. Everybody went after this hare trying to throw an overcoat onto him. The hare escaped. It was a lot of fun, especially when an army newspaper wrote that the glorious 55th guard rifling division failed to catch a single hare.
Then we fought at the 1st Belarusian Front. I participated in the famous Bagration operation. [Editor's note: Belarus operation of the Soviet army in the summer of 1944. The invasion force consisted of 1,700,000 troops supported by 6,000 planes, nearly 3,000 tanks, and 24,000 artillery pieces. This attack cost the Germans more men and material than the defeat at Stalingrad.] Then we came to Brest and moved onto the territory of Poland. After Warsaw was taken, the advance was suspended. That was when I thought: We are advancing the war is coming to an end, it's time to think about peaceful life. During the war I actively corresponded with girls like everybody else. We often received letters at the front from girls, with photographs in them: 'I would like to meet a young soldier.' The girls didn't know any name and address at first, of course. All the action was organized by the military. I had a whole collection of photographs of different girls signed on the backside: 'May this still-imprint remind you of a living soul,' or 'don't think about me, when you look at the photo, but think - and then look!' There was one girl from the Far East, but this wasn't what I was thinking about. I wrote to the girl in Odessa whom I liked, but there was no response.
From Poland we returned to Belarus and then moved to Lithuania. Our division was one of the first to cross the border of Prussia and come to German land. [Eastern Prussia was bordering with Lithuania before the war. After the annexation of the Baltic States (1940) it became a German- Soviet border. After the war Eastern Prussia was divided up in between the Soviet Union and Poland.] At the border, there was a post with a sign reading 'Here it is - the fascist Germany!' Of course, that Europe was radically different from where we came from. I compared the houses in Prussia with the ones we had seen in Belarus. I even took a picture of one house in Prussia, so well-designed it was. When we entered Germany, we were allowed to send trophies home. Everybody looked for something to send home. I sent my mother a gown, fabric, some pieces of cloth. There were many abandoned houses. Our soldiers were particularly eager to get watches. Sometimes they would stop a German man asking, 'Uhr, Uhr [German for 'watch'] take it off!' I had about 16 watches. There was a popular saying: 'let's make an exchange without looking!' to swap watches. The watches were a kind of luxury in the USSR. Some didn't care about trophies and others were greedy - one could tell what people were like.