Fantastic Red Army soldier’s story



My military service began in Riga in the first days of the war. I was

16 years old. My father asked me to go for some gasoline in the car. When

I was driving home, the Red Army stopped me at the Interior Ministry and

announced that I had to drive them to Pskov. That is a city near the

Latvian-Russian border. The German army was rapidly approaching Riga.

What did I do? I calculated that I would be back tomorrow, and I was

supposed to go to a party with some friends, and this trip would make an

interesting story for them especially the girls. I went. I returned after

four years four long years during which I grew up and became a soldier

who was tempered by battle.

What happened to me in Pskov? They took my car away and made

me walk home. It was warm, and there was no problem in moving down

the highway toward Riga. There was one problem, though I was hungry.

At the side of the road I spotted a Russian officer with his family, and they

were having their lunch. I sat down on the opposite side of the road and

started at them stupidly. They probably noticed that I was drooling, and

after a while they asked me to join them. The officer addressed me in

Russian, which was a language that I did not know. I did, however, speak

Polish very well. He told me that there was no point in going to Riga,

because the Germans were already there. The Russian officer proposed

that I go with him. It turned out that he was the commander of an aviation

brigade. I became the mascot of the brigade. I already told you that I was

a good driver. My job was to deliver ammunition and to help in preparing

the airplanes. There was a training airplane there, and like any boy, I

wanted to fly. They let me, although the first few times, of course, I flew

with a pilot. After a while they let me fly myself, and then later the

instructor let me land by myself. I had real trouble with the Russian

language. I was being taught navigation and topography, and I kept

saying that I understood everything, when in fact I understood nothing.

When the commander saw that I had learned to fly very well, he proposed

that I become a mailman. That meant my having a two-panel airplane. It

wasn’t really an airplane, anyone could have landed it on the roof of a

barn. My duty was to carry letters to army headquarters. I looked down at

the ground to orient myself. I flew for a while, and then I saw the kinds of

planes that other pilots had. I was almost offended in what way was I

worse than any of them? After one discussion of that type, the

commander told me: “The hell with you! Take my plane and show me

what you can do with it!” That can only happen in Russia during war. I

didn’t have to be told twice. I showed everything that I knew up in the air,

and I landed the commander’s plane as if I were a major pilot. I received

praise and my airplane.

The first air battle. Hmm. There were two of us the commander

and me. We flew out of the clouds and attacked 18 German bombers that

were being escorted by destroyers. I had to stay on the tail of the

commander so that the enemy would not shoot at his plane from the back.

I was cannon fodder. I did everything that I had been taught. I flew below

the bombers and then attacked them rapidly. You may not believe me, but

I shot a German plane out of the sky in my very first air battle.

When I returned to the airfield, I thought that I was the best pilot in

the world. I was 16 years old 16!

One of the pilots from the bomber brigade had been taken as a

prisoner. He was a professional German pilot with a wealth of battle

experience. He asked to see the asshole who had shot him down. They all

pointed at me. The German asked that the Russians stop mocking him by

showing him a child. I did not look like a real man. My uniform was too

big, and I looked like a clothes hanger with clothes on it. The translator

told my story to the German, and he had to believe. The German put out

his hand “Congratulations!” We shook hands. The German took a pipe

out of his pocket and handed it to me. “My father gave this to me. It was

my talisman, but I don’t need it any more. Take it. It’s yours.” I did. Then

I got in trouble with the NKVD (KGB). “Why did you shake hands with a Fascist?”

the investigator asked me. I told him that the loser always puts out his

hand to the winner that’s something I had read in books about behavior on

the battlefield. Then it became known that I was not yet 18, I was not

allowed to fight. It was not enough. The NKVD man found out that I had not

sworn fealty and that I had no right to sit down at the controls of an

airplane, let alone fly and participate in battles. So how did it end? The

commander and the director of the political division agreed with the special

services. I was born in 1925, but they added a little line to the five, and

there it was I was born in 1923. Theoretically I became two years older

in a single day. I swore my oath and became a soldier.

I didn’t have all that much time to fly in one aerial battle my

engine was shot up. In a few seconds the cockpit was full of smoke from

burning oil. I had been taught that if I ever had to jump with a parachute, I

should tighten the strap between my legs. In the confusion of the situation,

of course, I forgot, and when I jumped out of the cockpit, I began to

plummet toward the earth like a stone. I pulled on the ring, the parachute

opened up, and when it was completely open the strap hit me in the balls so

hard that I don’t even remember how I got to the ground. When I came to

my senses, there were men with guns all around me “Haende hoch,” they

shouted. I screamed back: “I’m one of yours!” That was the end of my

flying career. I was sent to a military hospital in Siberia, where a medical

commission said that my stomach lining had been torn. I could not fly for

six months. After I got out of the hospital I was sent to learn how to drive a

tank. It was difficult, and it hurt my stomach a lot to push down the clutch.

Despite this, I became a tank commander. In the early years there were

often women who manned the machine guns in the tanks, and there were

always problems with them. They were forever having love affairs with

men from the units, and they often got pregnant. And during battles they

always pissed themselves not much use at all.

You ask whether I drove my tank over fallen soldiers? Let me tell

you the tank was always driven in those places where there was the least

likelihood of driving over a mine. I remember one battle in Russia when

we attacked some little village. I drove onto the main street and saw a car

full of Germans coming around the corner. I ordered the guns to be

loaded, the gun fired, the Opel blew up. We shot, and we were ordered to

move forward. Other commands followed. The street in the village was

full of fallen soldiers and damaged military equipment. I saw a burning

house, and there were injured soldiers Soviet prisoners of war jumping

out of the second floor window. The Germans had set fire to the building

while retreating. Something broke in me. You understand that if a man is

not ready for battle, he cannot be a soldier. I lost any feelings for the

enemy soldiers, I was no longer a noble knight. We couldn’t stay in place,

because that would have made us sitting ducks.

We drove down the road, destroying everything and everyone that

got in our way. I felt that the engine was suffering. I told the mechanic

about my suspicions and asked him to check the water temperature. My

suspicions were confirmed. We arrived at a church, which provided us

with cover, and right then the tank’s engine stopped. We got out of the

tank and saw a horrible sight. The treads of the tank had captured

someone’s kidneys and tendons, the clothing of a soldier, someone’s belt.

We tried to scrub the stuff off of the treads with a knife, but it did not

work. Finally we built a fire under the treads you know, the entire area

smelled of shish kebob. It was not easy, but we cleaned the treads.

Did anyone shoot at my tank? Yes. It was near Staraja Rusa. We

attacked across railroad tracks. I had a bad feeling about it. When we got

to the battle zone, I saw many American Sherman tanks that had been shot

up. I felt that it would be difficult to move forward. As soon as I drove up

the embankment of the tracks, and the nose of my tank was pointed

upward, there was a deafening explosion. When I recovered, I was

covered with blood and pieces of flesh. I thought that I had been

injured as commander I was on one side of the tower, while the guy who

loaded the gun was on the other. The gun was between us. I understood

that the blood and flesh were from my loader. I started to examine myself.

I found a piece of metal in my groin, and somehow I don’t know how I

pulled it out. As soon as I did, the blood started to gush, too, and I lost

consciousness. When I came back to consciousness I was already out of

the tank. I have to thank the nurse who braved enemy fire to save me.

Were there moments in the war when I thought that it was all over

for me? Yes, there were. I returned from the field hospital to my unit. It

was winter, and the night was very, very dark. I arrived at army

headquarters to find out where my unit was located. I was offered a chance

to spend the night at headquarters, but I refused. I was also offered a man

with a machine gun to accompany me to my unit, but I rejected that, too. I

told them that I had a pistol and would do fine. I was shown a path that had

been trod into the snow, and off I went. When I was already some way

away from the headquarters, I saw dark figures among the trees. I thought

that my eyes were fooling me and that I had not yet completely recovered

from my injuries. Then I noticed the black shadows of human beings,

however, and less than a second later I was hiding under a pile of branches

that were covered with snow. I heard someone speaking German. I was

not certain of my hiding place and thought that perhaps my legs were

sticking out. The German scouts came very close to me, sat down and lit

up cigarettes, not sensing anything. My heart was pounding, and I thought

that my rapid breathing would give me away in a moment. I aimed and

fired twice, and both bullets hit the target. The soldiers fell silent. The

third scout was a bit further, and I fired in his direction, too. Amazingly

enough, I hit him, but the shot was not fatal. He was injured and began to

yell. The men at my own army headquarters heard the shooting in the

forest, and they began to fire randomly in the direction where I and the

dead German scouts were located. Bullets whizzed above my head, and it

was terrible.

When everything had calmed down, the injured German was

arrested. I had shot him in the hip. I ended up spending the rest of the

night at headquarters after all.

Coming home…(there is a pause). When Riga was being liberated,

I was already a student at the Moscow War Academy. I tried to look

good, and I studied hard. I was an experienced solider and a Latvian. I

asked my general for permission to go visit my father. The general had

fought with the red riflemen from Latvia in World War I and during the

Russian civil war, and he knew how the Latvians could fight.

The general talked to Stalin’s son, who was commanding the

airport of the government in Moscow from which heavy bombers flew to

the front lines. I was put on a bomber as a second pilot, and I flew across

the Latvian region of Kurzeme to drop bombs on my older brother, who

was a Latvian Legionnaire. When we landed in Riga at night, the first

pilot said that he would be fine and told me to go visit my father. It was

around Christmas. I was given a car with a driver, and off we went. I

looked impressive. I was wearing a winter pilot’s uniform from Canada,

and I had on warm boots. I had a flyer’s cap with goggles on my head. As

we were driving, I told the chauffeur to go see my father first and ask him

whether he remembered his youngest son. I wanted to prepare a surprise

for him. We drove into the farm. My father and his neighbor were sawing

firewood. The driver went up to my father and asked about his youngest

son. My father responded that his youngest son had died in Russia in

1941, and that there was someone who had promised to show him the

grave. I could not stand it. I tore my hat off and yelled, “Father, do you

not know your own son?”

My father looked at me, his knees buckled, and he fainted. The

driver helped me carry my dad into the house and put him in bed. I had

some alcohol in my bag, and I tried to pour some into my father’s mouth to

bring him back to his senses as quickly as possible.

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