Conscription in the Red Army was not something that you want. Which was something that I wish I could say freely, but saying something like that could get you disappeared. It was dangerous, and many fine young Russians had died beating up the Nazi menaces. I had been working hard for my country, as a farmer providing potatoes for the men on the frontline. I felt that I was contributing to the war in the best way I could. As an older man of thirty-two, I was not expecting to be drafted.
Then the Soviet Red Army needed all the troops they could get. At the beginning of the Battle of Stalingrad, the Red Army drafted everybody. They used to only draft men in their early twenties, but after the start of Stalingrad, I have heard of people as young as fifteen being drafted, and as old as forty-five. The Soviets say they only draft those suited for battle, but “suited for battle,” to the Red Army, means you can run and hear.
Then one day in the mail I got a letter saying that I had been conscripted to the Red Army. I had dreaded this letter for a long time, ever since I had known that I may be drafted. I knew what happened to those who skipped the draft. They disappeared to God knows where. So I boarded a train leaving from Perm Central and headed to Moscow for basic training. I began to count down the days left in basic training as if they were the days I had left to live.
The training had gone well. All the years of farming had made me very strong. I showed much potential as a leader and was assigned as a sergeant. The only reason I was given such a high rank was that there was so much need for manpower. Barely anybody had experience and was still alive. I do not really think that what rank I was given mattered in this situation. I knew in the back of my head that when I got to Stalingrad, rank would not matter. I was going to die anyway.
Four days after that, I was on a landing craft headed towards Stalingrad beach. I felt the cold metal of the seats I sat on. The landing craft did not have the luxury of getting anything soft to sit on. The Russian factories were too busy churning out the essentials of war. I silently thought of what my fate would be. I knew what was most likely. I would be told to charge the defenses. I would get shot with a German machine gun, and then nothing.
The others around me all were finding their own ways to mentally or physically prepare. Some didn’t have sea legs and were leaning over the edge of the landing craft vomiting. Others were praying aloud. Some were having a total breakdown. A few just sat in silence.
My regiment had been assigned to the second wave against heavy German fortifications. Those Germans thought they could capture our great Russian city; they’d soon have another thing coming to them. I was ready to kill some Germans with my Mosin-Nagant. I was one of the few lucky soldiers that got an actual gun, not one of the unlucky souls sent to their death with no weapons, to die after only being at best a meat shield for their lucky comrades, who might’ve gotten to live an extra minute, or even killed a German before being mowed down.
The landing zone approached and was clear, just as we all expected. All the Germans were defending inside the city. I could hear the shots of guns and tanks in the city ringing in my ears. I really hoped the first regiment would mop up the Germans, but from what I was hearing, it didn’t sound good. I anxiously waited for our colonel to tell us to charge the German scum. I heard the shots settle down, and I could tell we would be charging those horrible Germans soon. I knew that we were also expected to fail, because there was another wave attacking after us. The 113th Rifle Division was going to attack Stalingrad and help free it from the Germans.
I heard the order that would probably cause my death, and we began to charge. The first wave failed, I thought to myself. I am going to die. The Germans are going to shoot me. My life will be gone. I won’t exist.
I charged up the hill anyway, and then I saw who we were attacking about one kilometer away. There were at least 400 Germans. They sat in the trenches, waiting, watching. They knew that they had the upper hand against an undersupplied and badly disciplined army. I held my rifle but did not fire, because I knew that I only had ten bullets and I was not going to hit them at this range. I kept charging at the Germans.
Then I heard the machine guns begin. I remembered the stories; hundreds of men gunned down. I lowered my head and looked for cover. I found a building and suggested for Lieutenant Andrei Mikhailov to move the platoon there. He agreed and our platoon moved on the building, taking cover. I heard the screams of Russians and I heard my regiment opening up in fear at the Germans. I looked out at the bloody scene, and through the haze, I saw a few Germans drop, but most shots missed their intended targets. Then there was silence, as all of the regiment was either dead or in cover, huddled for their lives.
We outnumbered them, but they were entrenched and had machine guns. Andrei moved towards the wooden door into the building.
The building was old concrete, built for the factory workers long ago. It had probably been in a bad condition before the battle, but the artillery of both sides had made the walls crumble. There was a hole into the second-floor wall. I saw a closet inside the hole, but the door out of the closet was closed.
He tried to open the door, but failed. Andrei whispered, “I am going to kick open the door and you should hide the noise by firing your gun.” The shot would sound normal among the already deafening gunshots. He held up his fingers and started lowering them one at a time.
And when he reached zero, I fired my rifle into the air. I heard another rifle shot as Andrei fell to the ground. I heard a few rifle shots from my platoon, and then, silence. I asked what happened, to no one in particular. A platoon-mate leaned over.
“Andrei kicked open the door. A German was standing guard and shot him through the head. We fired back, but not in time to stop him from killing Andrei.”
I walked up to Andrei and looked at him in horror, as I saw the bloody hole running in between his eyes, only interrupted by the gray matter jutting out.
Why? Why? Why? Why were the Germans such good shots?