Military history

ELEVEN

With the Khasin Tank Brigade

After the Soviet general offensive of January 1942 had petered out disastrously, Grossman began to reflect on the Russian roller coaster of emotions. They had gone from despairing disbelief in the terrible summer of 1941, to panic in the autumn as the Germans approached Moscow, then wild optimism in the great counter-attack around the capital, and now depression again.

A Russian man has to work very hard, and his life is hard too, but in his soul he does not realise the inevitability of this hard work and hard life. At war, I have seen only two kinds of reaction to the things happening around one: either extreme optimism, or complete gloom. Transition from one to the other is quick and sudden, and easy. There is nothing in between. No one lives with the thought that the war is going to be long, that only hard work, month after month, could lead to victory. Even those who say so don’t believe it. There are only two feelings: the first one – the enemy is defeated; the other one – the enemy cannot be defeated.

Grossman was so deeply affected by the genuine spirit of sacrifice among ordinary soldiers and front-line officers that he became quite emotional on the subject.

At war, a Russian man puts on a white shirt. He may live in sin, but he dies like a saint. At the front [there is] a purity of thought and soul, a kind of monastic austerity.

The rear [the civilian part of the country] lives by different laws and it would never be able to merge morally with the front. Its law is life, and the struggle for survival. We Russians don’t know how to live like saints, we only know how to die like saints. The front [represents] the holiness of Russian death, the rear is the sin of Russian life.

At the front, there is patience and resignation, submission to unthinkable hardships. This is the patience of a strong people. This is the patience of a great army. The greatness of the Russian soul is incredible.

On the other hand, Grossman was extremely impatient with much of the propaganda that tried to conceal the incompetence of Soviet military leadership during the previous six months.

The Kutuzov myth about the strategy of 1812. The blood-soaked body of war is being dressed in snow-white robes of ideological, strategic and artistic convention. There are those who saw the retreat and those who dressed it. The myth of the First and the Second Great Patriotic War.

Still on the Southern Front, with the 37th Army, Grossman visited a tank brigade commanded by Colonel Khasin. There he spent quite some time with Captain Kozlov, a Jewish officer.

At Khasin’s tank brigade, Captain Kozlov, the commander of the motorised rifle battalion, was philosophising about life and death while talking to me at night. He is a young man with a small beard. Before the war he was studying music at the Moscow Conservatoire. ‘I have told myself that I will be killed whatever happens, today or tomorrow. And once I realised this, it became so easy for me to live, so simple, and even somehow so clear and pure. My soul is very calm. I go into battle without any fear, because I have no expectations. I am absolutely convinced that a man commanding a motorised rifle batallion will be killed, that he cannot survive. If I didn’t have this belief in the inevitability of death, I would be feeling bad and, probably, I wouldn’t be able to be so happy, calm and brave in the fighting.’

Kozlov told me how in 1941 he used to sing arias from operas at night in a forest near Bryansk in front of German trenches. Usually the Germans would listen to him for a little while and then start firing at the voice with machine guns. Probably they didn’t like his singing.

Kozlov told me that, in his opinion, Jews aren’t fighting well enough. He says that they fight like ordinary people, while in a war like this Jews should be fighting like fanatics.

The spike of racial hatred is directed against the Orthodox Jews, who in essence are racists and fanatics of racial purity. There are two poles now: on one side are racists who suppress the world; on the other, Jewish racists, the most suppressed in the world.

One is afraid of things one isn’t used to. One can get used to anything but not death, probably because one only dies once.

War is an art. Within it elements of calculation, cool knowledge and experience are combined with inspiration, chance and something completely irrational (battle for Zaliman, Pesochin). These elements are compatible with one another, but sometimes they come into conflict. It’s like a musical improvisation which is unthinkable without a brilliant technique.

Moon over the snow-covered battlefield.

Grossman continued to collect character sketches together with his other vignettes.

The driver of a heavy tank: Krivorotov, Mikhail Pavlovich, twenty-two. (He is a huge, blue-eyed fellow.) Worked as a combine-harvester driver in a sovkhoz1 in Bashkiria, from the age of twenty. Joined the army in December 1940. ‘I had never seen tanks before that, and I liked them incredibly at first sight. Tanks are very beautiful. I was a mechanic-driver. This machine, with its firepower, is a golden machine, very strong.

‘They had guns and mortars, we crossed a gully and broke into the village. I shouted: “Gun on the left flank!” We destroyed this gun and some machine guns. Then, a shell hit the left side. The tank caught fire. The crew jumped out, and I stayed in the burning tank and knocked out the enemy battery. My back was feeling a little hot, everything was on fire. Such a fast machine it was. I was sorry to give it up. Very sorry. I clambered back into the hull and jumped out through the top hatch, just like a pike. The tank’s oil and paint were already on fire.’

Marusya, the telephone operator. Everyone praises her, everyone knows her. She addresses everyone by their first name and patronymic. Everyone is calling her: ‘Marusya, Marusya!’ No one has ever seen her face.

Abashidze, a convivial fellow, member of Komsomol, battalion commander and vulgar person. His sickening, insolent, rude dialogue with the old landlady. When he asks for a light [from one’s cigarette, he says]: ‘May I touch the tip of your delight?’

One does not say now of somebody that they have been ‘killed’, but ‘he has covered himself’. ‘My friend has covered himself, he was such a great chap!’2

A beautiful, bright day. Air battles are going on above the village houses. Terrible sights – birds with black crosses, birds with stars. All the terror, all thoughts, all the fear of a human mind and heart are in these last moments of a machine’s life, when its wings seem to express all that is in a pilot’s eyes, hands, forehead. They were fighting low, just above the tops of the roofs. One of them hit the ground. Five minutes later – another one. A man died in front of their eyes, a very young man, very strong, he so wanted to live. How he was flying, how he trembled, how frightening were the misfirings [of the engine]. They are the misfirings of a heart above the field of snow. The fox’s and wolf’s nature of yellow-tipped Messers.

Pilots say: ‘Our life is like a child’s shirt – it’s short and covered with shit all over.’3

Strange paradox – the Messers are almost helpless against our seagulls, because the seagulls are so slow.

Joy of a cameraman who has managed to film a tragic air battle: ‘I’ll just need to retouch the crosses, that’s all!’

A dead pilot lay all night on a beautiful hill covered with snow: it was very cold and the stars were very bright. At dawn the hill became completely pink, and the pilot lay on a pink hill.

Grossman, not surprisingly, was fascinated by the unusual story of a commissar prepared to stick his neck out to prevent a terrible miscarriage of justice.

Senior politruk Mordukhovich, a small Jew from Mozyr, is the commissar of an artillery battalion. One of the soldiers in his battalion is a huge worker from Tula, called Ignatiev. He is extremely brave, one of the best soldiers in the battalion. The commissar had to go away for some time, and during his absence, Ignatiev lagged behind and joined up with another unit. They fought a defensive action. From there he was sent back to his unit during a lull. On his way he was stopped by an NKVD patrol. He was arrested as a deserter and sent to the military tribunal. He was sentenced to death. Meanwhile, Commissar Mordukhovich had returned to the unit and learned about his fate. Mordukhovich rushed to the divisional commissar and told him what a great soldier Ignatiev was. The commissar took his head [‘his ears’] in his hands. ‘There is nothing I can do to help now!’

Ignatiev was taken off to be executed by a representative of the Special Department, the commandant from headquarters, two soldiers and the deputy politruk. They led him to a little wood. The commandant took out his pistol, and pointed at the back of Ignatiev’s head. Misfire. Ignatiev turned to look back, cried out, and ran towards the forest. They fired at him, but missed. He disappeared. The Germans were only three kilometres away. Ignatiev spent three days wandering in the forest. Then he managed to return to the battalion unnoticed and came to Mordukhovich’s bunker. Mordukhovich said: ‘I will hide you, don’t worry.’ Mordukhovich gave him some food, but Ignatiev was trembling and crying so much that he couldn’t eat. Mordukhovich went to speak to the divisional commissar. By then he had been hiding Ignatiev for five days. ‘The man came back of his own accord. He said to me: “I’d rather die at the hands of my own people, than at the hands of the Germans.”’ The divisional commissar went to see the corps commissar, and the corps commissar went to see the [army] commander. The sentence was cancelled. Ignatiev now follows Mordukhovich around day and night.

‘Why are you following me?’

‘I am afraid that the Germans may kill you, Comrade Commissar. I am guarding you.’

Some stories, however, may have been little more than the front equivalent of an urban myth.

A soldier accused of desertion was being escorted to the tribunal when the Germans attacked. His guards hid in the bushes. The deserter grabbed one of their rifles and killed two Germans, and took the third one with him to the tribunal. ‘Who are you?’ [they demanded.]

‘I’ve come to be tried.’

Those sentenced to shtrafroty, or punishment companies, were known as ‘smertniks’, dead men, because none were expected to survive. They were being given the chance by the Soviet state to wipe out their shame with their blood. Many demonstrated exceptional bravery. One smertnik, Vladimir Karpov, even received the highest order, Hero of the Soviet Union. Evidently, he was not a political offender, because they, on Stalin’s order, could never receive any sort of decoration.

The company of smertniks consists of men whose sentences have been replaced with assignment to the front line. Its commander is a lieutenant with a self-inflicted wound who was sentenced to execution.

Men in this doomed company have skewbald, frostbitten faces, with pink traces from the cold of minus 40°, torn greatcoats, terrible coughs, as if coming from somewhere in the stomach, hoarse, barking, husky voices, and they all are overgrown with beards. Using the fire of their guns and also their tracks, tankists broke the line of fortifications and brought to Volobuevka a squad of tank infantry commanded by Senior Sergeant Tomilin. The battle lasted for eight hours. Tomilin’s tank infantry seized twelve houses. Tomilin himself killed ten fascists. The section of Sergeant Galkin killed thirty men, set on fire six houses with sub-machine-gunners and pillboxes, and destroyed a battalion headquarters with grenades. In the morning they joined up with our advancing troops in the southern outskirts of Volobuevka. When leading his soldiers into battle, Tomilin shouted: ‘Come on, bandits, forward!’

From the war diary of the 7th Guards Howitzer Artillery Regiment:

On 12 January, Junior Sergeant Ivanov and reconnaissance man Ofitserov saw seven men on a slope of a hill. They turned out to be fascists who kept plunging a man into an ice hole. The fascists were frightened by our fire and fled, leaving a half-frozen medical assistant. He was paralysed with fear.

On 13 January, Junior Lieutenant Belousov was sent to establish communication with the infantry. He had to cross a gully overgrown with forest. While skiing through the forest, he noticed a cable connecting two German signals stations. The station closer to him was not guarded. Belousov took his skis off and cut the cable. Then he went into the forest, found an empty reel and wound seventy metres of telephone cable on to it.

Grossman continued to note down strange sayings and terms. Vodka was known as ‘Product 61’ because that was its place on the list of items issued.

A cook in a guards regiment [continually used the phrase] ‘put into shape’. ‘I’ll just put it into shape on the table.’ ‘I’ll put mutton into shape.’ ‘I’ll put soured cabbage into shape.’

A raid by twenty-eight aircraft. Not a single artillerist retreated. ‘They are wedded to their guns.’

A commissar in the 5th Guards went insane after an aviation raid and an attack by enemy tanks.

Large icons were used to make plotters for battery commanders.

A commissar cut bars from red rubber bands.4

At night, Lieutenant Colonel Tarasov, the commander of a guards howitzer regiment, reads Faust lying on the floor of an izba. He wears a pince-nez which he cleans with a piece of suede.

A story told by Lieutenant Colonel Tarasov on how he had ‘dusted the Germans’ jackets’. The story shows the psyche of an artillerist. Infantry had reported that the Germans went to have lunch once a bugle was blown. Field kitchens were detected by the smoke. Tarasov gave the order: ‘Collect data, load guns and report on readiness!’ The Germans were shelled with concentrated fire. The artillerists heard screams.

A captured German in a medical train. He needed a blood transfusion which would save his life. He shouted: ‘Nein, nein!’ (He didn’t want any Slav blood.) He died three hours later.

Soldiers started running away from the battlefield. A battalion commissar, armed with two revolvers, began shouting: ‘Where are you running, you whores, where? Go forward, for our Motherland, for Jesus Christ, motherfuckers! For Stalin, you whores!’ They turned round and occupied their defensive position again.

A soldier with curly hair, surname unknown, had been driving a sledge around in the German rear for twelve days. A mortar and bombs were hidden under the straw on the sledge. He would fire and then hide the mortar in the straw again. When he saw Germans, he would burst into song. They never suspected him. He would drive away from them, take out his mortar and fire at them.

Photographer Ryumkin was swearing at guards artillerists, who turned the wrong way (not photogenic) while firing their guns in earnest.

Lieutenant Matyushko commands a destroyer detachment, whose task is to annihilate Germans occupying the houses. The annihilators break into the village and rush into the houses. Matyushko said: ‘My men are all bandits. This war in villages is a bandit war.’ They sometimes strangle Germans with their hands.

A sergeant’s voice is heard coming out of smoke and flames: ‘Don’t fire in here, I’ve captured this house.’

A member of the destroyer detachment entered a house and swept the people sitting there with his quick dark glance. Everyone understood that this had become his habit, the habit of a man who breaks into a house and kills. Lieutenant Matyushko, too, interpreted his glance this way and said, laughing: ‘He could have done away with all of us on his own!’

We enter Malinovka with the battalion of motorised infantry [commanded by Captain Kozlov]. The houses are ablaze. Germans are screaming, they are dying. One of them, all black and scorched, is smoking. Our soldiers haven’t eaten for two days and are chewing dry millet concentrate while they advance. They look into destroyed cellars and immediately get some potatoes, stuff snow into their kettles and put them on embers found in the burning izbas.

How could a dead horse have got into the cellar? It’s impossible to understand! In the same cellar there’s a broken barrel of [soured] cabbage. Soldiers are gobbling it up greedily. ‘It’s all right, it isn’t poisoned.’ In the same cellar someone is bandaging a wounded photo-correspondent leaning against the horse’s corpse.

‘Then our aircraft raided the place and bombed us [said a member of the motorised battalion]. The battalion commander Kozlov withstood an attack of tanks. He was on great form and completely drunk. The tanks were thrown back in a dashing fashion.’

III Guards Cossack Corps is leaving for the front. Men are putting the headquarters equipment on a truck, reeling in signal wire. The frosty evening is full of inexplicable beauty. It’s quiet and clear. Firewood is crackling in the field kitchens. Cavalrymen are leading horses. In the middle of the street, a girl is kissing a Cossack and crying. He has become her family over the last three days. For this girl from the village of Pogorelovo near Kursk, he has become her very own.

A wonderful gun-layer at the battery, who had been fighting from the first day of the war, was killed by a fragment of shell while he was laughing. And there he lay laughing, dead. He lay there for a day, and then another day. No one wanted to bury him. They are all lazy. The earth is as hard as granite from the cold. He had bad comrades. They don’t bury the corpses! They leave the killed men behind and go away. There are no burial detatchments. No one cares. I informed front headquarters about it with a coded message. What mad Asiatic heartlessness! How often one can see the reserves reaching the front line and reinforcements sent to the sites of recent battles, walking among unburied dead soldiers. Who can read what is going on in the souls of these men advancing to replace those lying around in the snow?

Execution of a traitor. While the sentence was being announced, sappers were digging a grave for him with picks. He said suddenly: ‘Step aside, comrades, a stray bullet may get you.’

‘Take off your boots,’ they told him. He took off one boot very deftly, with the toe of the other foot. The other boot took some time, he was jumping on one leg for a while.

The Kursk magnetic anomaly is a problem for rocket detachments and artillerists – it confuses compasses and other equipment. The magnetic anomaly has played a joke on the Katyusha batteries, and the Katyushas played a trick on our infantry. They hit our front line.

In the morning, they put a table covered with red cloth in the snow-covered village street. Tankists from the Khasin Brigade were lined up, and the distribution of medals began. All the men awarded with medals have been fighting constantly for a long time. The queue of them looks like a line of workers from a hot workshop: they are wearing torn overalls, clothes glossy from oil, they have black working hands, and faces typical of workers. They walk to the table to get the medals in the deep snow, they walk heavily, waddling. ‘I congratulate you on receiving this high governmental award!’

‘I serve the Soviet Union!’ they answer in the hoarse voices of Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Tatars, Georgians. It’s the Workers’ International at war.

That night we were talking, not very soberly, with Kozlov, the commander of the motorised rifle battalion. He told me that the hero who received two medals that morning and whom I had eyed with admiration, the reconnaissance chief of the brigade, is no hero at all. This shocked me because I couldn’t imagine a truer hero than the one I had seen that morning in the village street.

Kozlov gave me a metal cross which he had taken from a dead [German] officer. The officer had been lying there, Kozlov told me, heavily wounded, drunk, with a hundred sub-machine-gun cartridge cases around him. The soldiers shot him. They found a pornographic postcard in his pocket.

In the morning, Kozlov and Bukovsky decided to have a revolver-shooting competition. They went behind some sheds and fastened a target to an old pear tree. They looked at me with pity and indulgence – a civilian who has no experience at all. Perhaps entirely by accident, all my bullets hit the bull’s-eye. The veterans – Kozlov and Bukovsky – didn’t hit the target even once. This, I think, was no accident.

In the izba, surrounded by his staff, stands Khasin, with his bulging dark eyes, crooked nose and cheeks blue from recent shaving. He looks Persian. His hand moving on the map looks like the claw of a huge carnivorous bird. He is explaining to me about the recent raid carried out by the tank brigade. He likes the word ‘roundabout’ very much and uses it all the time: ‘Tanks were moving in a roundabout way.’

I was told back at the front headquarters that Khasin’s family had all been killed in Kerch by Germans carrying out a mass execution of civilians. Purely by chance, Khasin saw photographs of the dead people in a ditch and recognised his wife and children. I was thinking, what does he feel when he leads his tanks into the fighting? It is very hard to have a clear impression of this man, because there is a young woman, a doctor, in the staff izba, who is ordering him about in a vulgar and impertinent manner. People say that she not only controls the colonel, but also his tank brigade. She interferes with all orders, and even amends lists of people put forward for decorations.

Interviews with soldiers from a motorised infantry battalion:

Mikhail Vasilievich Steklenkov, thin, blond, born 1913. He ran away from school when he was in the fifth form, and started to work.

‘We never feel bored, we sit down and start to sing. There isn’t time to feel bored! One forgets oneself when one thinks about home. Germans poisoned my father with gas during the Imperialist War. I was sent to the Military-Political school in Ivanovo on 23 July. The alarm was sounded, the cadets were lined up and we were given what we were supposed to have, and we went.

‘They ask me: “Why are you so happy all the time?” And why should I be sad? My landlady asks: “Why do you sing songs? We’re at war now!” I answer: “But now is the best time to sing songs.”

‘I had such a brave crew, they would never leave the gun. I lie and watch out for bombs. I’ll manage to crawl away if needed . . . Only we’d run out of tobacco . . . [I man] a 45mm [anti-tank] gun. It’s interesting to fire point-blank from this gun . . .

With Khasin’s tank brigade. Grossman talks to an old peasant decorated in the First World War with the St. George Cross.

‘What is there to live for after the war? If I survive, I’ll return home, and if not, well, what’s so special about that? I didn’t have time to get married before the war began. I can’t live without the war now. When we’re out of the fighting, I begin to feel bored.’ He had frostbite in a hand and a foot, but had not reported sick.

‘I am not afraid of a bullet – to hell with it – even if it kills me. We fire, and I feel good.’

Ivan Semyonovich Kanaev, born 1905 in Ryazan, married with four children.

‘I was drafted on 3 July. I was chopping wood [at the time when the postman brought my call-up order]. We sang songs, drank wine and didn’t give a damn. I trained in Dashki to be a driver. My mother and wife came to see me there. Commanders were very kind and allowed me to go on leave. I had six home leaves.

‘When we were brought close to the front, it was frightening. I felt better once the fighting began. I go to fight like one goes to work, to a factory. It was terrifying at first, but now I am not afraid of bullets. It’s only mortar bombs that upset me. I’ve taken part in a bayonet attack, too, but the Germans didn’t wait to receive it. We shouted “Ura!”, and they got up and ran.

‘It’s good if there’s an amusing fellow, who starts to tell or sing something funny.

‘The rifle is my personal weapon, it never lets me down. I dropped it in the mud in Bogdukhanovka. I thought it would be wrecked, but no, thank God, it still worked.

‘I feel less homesick now, only I want to see the kids, especially the youngest one. I’ve never seen him yet. And actually, I do miss home. I’ve got one friend, Selidov, we’ve been together from the first day.

‘We marched fifty kilometres during the day. It isn’t so difficult when one’s feet are all right.

‘My bag for personal kit: first of all, some bread to eat, a notebook, a set of underwear, extra foot bandages. We took “trophies” in Petrishchevo. There was enough stuff even for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but I took nothing. What do I need it for? I’ll be killed anyway. I could have collected a dozen watches. It may be my nature, but I feel it’s disgusting to touch [the enemy and his belongings]. My comrades are prepared to touch them, but I, personally, am afraid to handle them.

‘Tanks? Why, of course I’ve seen them.

‘Face to face [fighting]. [A German] wounded me, and I killed him. He sprang out, and I thought I wanted to take him alive. “Halt!” He fired a burst at me and wounded me in the hand. I took aim, he fell. A woman brought out an earthenware pot of milk for me. I used up my bandage on a wounded boy. I bandaged his shoulder.

‘Never run back under mortar fire. If you go back, that’ll be the end of you! When [the enemy] fires [at you] with a machine gun, he isn’t very accurate either. You can lie down and then run to another place. When he stops, run forward! Because if you run back he’ll get you!

‘Aircraft, well, what can you do? We all scatter. But the mortar, I find it terrible. It’s their most effective weapon.

‘I used to be scared even of squeaking of gates at home, and now I fear nothing. In Petrishchevo, I knocked a machine-gunner off a roof. We approached and lay down. I got very cold and jumped up to my feet. Aiiee, aiiee, I was frozen. I took aim with my rifle. He shut up immediately. I checked later, the bullet had hit him in the eyebrow. I killed about fifteen of their men.

‘It was really good advancing to the battle in Morozovka. They were retreating, and we were pursuing. Was it I who came to attack them? We are fighting on our land.

‘One hears so much from the locals, such meanness, how can one forgive them? A woman pleaded with me, and I gave her my needle. During a battle, I lost the strap on my greatcoat, I got hold of one, but there was nothing to sew it on with. But as for buttons, my pockets are always full of them.

‘My conclusion is that we’ve got to come out the winner. Only I don’t know how. Weren’t they winning in the summer? They are great fighters, but cowards.

‘I was wounded, you know, in an embarrassing place, and I was afraid there would be nothing left to go back to my wife with. The doctor examined me and said: “Lucky bastard! Everything’s all right.”

‘It’s good to fight at dawn. It’s as if you were going to work. It’s a bit dark and one can see all their points well because of tracer bullets, and when we break into a village, it is already light.

‘I’ve lost my desire for women. Ah, I’d love to see the kids, if only for one day, and then I would fight again, till the end.

‘In the village, we sometimes had to work harder than here. As for hardships, life is harder in the village. I’ve become used to noise here. One sleeps through artillery and mortar fire. One snores out in the middle of a field. I’ve suffered a lot of cold, this winter.’

‘There are moral obligations for a soldier: one has to drag out not only the wounded, but also those killed in the fighting. When I was deafened during a battle, a soldier, my comrade, came to help me and led me out of the battle.’

‘Bullets don’t hit brave men,’ says Kanaev. Everyone else is lying down, but he is standing up. ‘Soldiers, follow me!’ Near Bogodukhov he led the squad into attack. He isn’t a coward. ‘Don’t worry, Comrade politruk!’ [he shouted.] ‘We won’t get wounded.’

From the reflections of Captain Kozlov:

‘One needs a lot of courage to take an aimed shot during a battle. Sixty per cent of our soldiers haven’t fired a single shot during the war at all.5 We are fighting thanks to heavy machine guns, battalion mortars and the courage of some individuals. I suggest that rifles should be cleaned before a battle and checked afterwards. If any man doesn’t fire – then he’s a deserter.

‘I am not afraid of saying that we haven’t carried out a single bayonet attack. Just look, we haven’t even got bayonets. Actually, I am afraid of spring. The Germans might start pushing us again when it gets warmer.’

Captain Kozlov’s fears were well grounded. Hitler was preparing a major offensive in the south to seize the oilfields of the Caucasus, whereas Stalin was convinced that the Wehrmacht would strike at Moscow again. The German summer offensive of 1942 was, through Hitler’s blind obstinacy, to lead to the battle of Stalingrad.

1 A sovkhoz was a sovetskoe khozyaistvo (Soviet farm), a large collection of buildings, usually with two-storey houses, while a kolkhoz was a collective farm based on a small village or settlement.

2 This euphemism refers to the cover being placed on a coffin and sealed.

3 This became a common saying, and was used by Germans as well as Red Army soldiers.

4 These parallel ‘bars’ or ‘railway sleepers’, as they were known, were badges of rank. Junior officers had square insignia, known as ‘cubes’.

5 Kozlov’s belief that a majority of soldiers did not fire at the enemy in battle is similar to Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall’s controversial ‘ratio of fire’ theory expounded in Men Against Fire (1947). Marshall claimed that between 75 per cent and 85 per cent of men in combat did not fire their weapons at the enemy. The validity of Marshall’s research was challenged in the winter of 1988 by Professor Roger Spiller in the RUSI Journal, but the basic theory may well be true.

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