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Military History on Film Newsreel and documentary film on the Second World War and other military conflicts. This is also the request and discussion forum for skoblin's website.

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  #16  
Old 20 Dec 09, 19:31
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Pogostye, Volkhov Front, January 1942



Denis Bazuev, 2004
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Siege of Leningrad battlefield tour

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Old 28 Dec 09, 13:30
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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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Such a hell I never witnessed again.....
I. D. Yelokhovskiy
Former platoon commander - Independent 76-mm Artillery Battalion, 59th Independent Rifle Brigade

Quote:
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: “Igorek...help....”. 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.
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Last edited by Skoblin; 28 Apr 10 at 12:17..
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