Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks
Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

During the war years, Dmitry Fedorovich Loza was a tanker, but he had to fight not on domestic vehicles, but on the tanks of the allies, about which he knows absolutely everything.

- Dmitry Fedorovich, on what American tanks did you fight?

- On Shermans, we called them Emchi - from M4. At first there was a short cannon on them, and then they began to come with a long barrel and a muzzle brake. On the frontal sheet they had a support to fix the barrel during the march. In general, the car was good, but, with its pluses and minuses. When they say that, they say, the tank was bad - I answer, excuse me! Bad compared to what?

- Dmitry Fedorovich, did you only have American vehicles in your unit?

- The Sixth Panzer Army fought in the Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria, and finished in Czechoslovakia. And later we were transferred to the Far East and we fought against Japan. Let me remind you that the army consisted of two corps: the 5th Guards Tank Stalingrad Corps, he fought on our T-34s, and the 5th Mechanized Corps, where I served. Until 1943, the British tanks of Matilda and Valentine were in this corps. The British supplied us with Matilda, Valentines and Churchillies.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

- Did you deliver Churchill later?

- Yes, later, and after 1943, ours completely abandoned these tanks because very serious shortcomings came to light. In particular, this tank had about 12-14 hp per ton of weight, and already at that time it was considered for a normal tank to have 18-20 hp. Of these three types of tanks, the best, Canadian-made, Valentine. The armor was streamlined, and most importantly, it was equipped with a 57-mm long-barreled cannon. From the end of 1943 we switched to American Shermans. After the Kishinev operation, our corps became the 9th Guards. I will add about the structure - each corps consisted of four brigades. Our mechanized corps had three mechanized brigades and one tank brigade where I fought, while the tank corps had three tank brigades and one motorized rifle brigade. So, since the end of 1943, Shermans have been installed in our brigade.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

- But the British tanks did not withdraw, they fought to the end, that is, there was a period when your corps had a mixed materiel - both British and American. Have there been additional problems in connection with the presence of such a wide range of cars from different countries? For example, with supplies, repairs?

There have always been supply problems, but in fact, Matilda is a shitty tank, just incredible! I want to emphasize one shortcoming. Some bad head in the General Staff planned the operation in such a way that our corps was thrown under Yelnya, Smolensk and Roslavl. The terrain there is wooded and swampy, that is, disgusting. And Matilda, a tank with bulwarks, was developed mainly for operations in the desert. It’s good in the desert - the sand is pouring out, and in our country the mud was jammed into the chassis between the caterpillar and the bulwark. Matilda had a gearbox (gearbox) with a servo mechanism for ease of gear shifting. In our conditions, it turned out to be weak and constantly overheating and out of order. Already then, in 1943, the British had an aggregate repair, that is, the checkpoint broke down - you unscrewed four bolts, down with the box, put a new one and drove off. And we didn’t always work that way. In my battalion was Sergeant Major Nesterov, a former collective farmer-tractor driver, in the position of a battalion mechanic. In general, each company had a mechanic, and this one was for the entire battalion. We also had a representative of an English company in our corps that produced these tanks, but I forgot my last name. I had it written down, but after I was knocked out, everything in my tank burned down, including photographs, documents, and a notebook. At the front, it was forbidden to keep records, but I kept it on the sly. So, the representative of the company constantly interfered with us to repair individual units of the tank.He said, "This is a factory seal, you can't pick it!" That is, throw away the unit and put on a new one. What are we to do? We need to fix the tank. Nesterov had all these gearboxes repaired with ease. A representative of the company once approached Nesterov, "What university did you study at?"

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

Sherman was much better in terms of maintainability. Do you know that one of Sherman's designers was Russian engineer Timoshenko? This is some kind of distant relative of Marshal S.K. Timoshenko.

The high center of gravity was a serious drawback for Sherman. The tank often tipped over on its side, like a nesting doll. It is thanks to this flaw that I may have survived. We fought in Hungary in December 1944. I am leading the battalion, and, at the turn, my driver hits the car on the pedestrian curb. So much so that the tank overturned. Of course, we were crippled, but we survived. And the other four of my tanks went ahead and burned them there.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

- Dmitry Fedorovich, Sherman had a rubber-metal track. Some modern authors point out this as a disadvantage, since in battle the rubber could burn out, then the caterpillar fell apart and the tank stopped. What can you say about this?

- On the one hand, such a caterpillar is a big plus. First, this track has twice the life of a conventional steel track. I'm afraid to be mistaken, but, in my opinion, the service life of the T-34 tracks was 2,500 kilometers. The service life of Sherman's track links was over 5,000 kilometers. Secondly, Sherman walks along the highway like a car, and our T-34 rumbles so loudly that the hell knows how many kilometers you can hear. And what was negative? There is an essay in my book Commanding the Red Army's Sherman Tanks called Barefoot. There I described an incident that happened to us in August 1944 in Romania, during the Iasso-Kishinev operation. The heat was terrible, somewhere around + 30 degrees. Then we walked up to 100 kilometers along the highway per day. The rubber tires on the rollers got so hot that the rubber melted and flew off in meter-long pieces. And not far from Bucharest, our hull stood up: the rubber flew around, the rollers began to jam, there was a terrible grinding noise, and in the end we stopped. This was urgently reported to Moscow: is it a joke? Such an emergency, the whole body stood up! But the new rollers were brought to us very quickly and we changed them for three days. I don’t know where they could find so many ice rinks in such a short time?

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

Another disadvantage of the rubber track: even with a slight icy surface, the tank became like a cow on ice. Then we had to tie the tracks with wire, chains, hammer bolts in there, so that we could somehow ride. But this only happened with the first batch of tanks. Seeing this, the American representative reported this to the firm, and the next batch of tanks arrived with an additional set of tracks with grousers and spikes. There were, in my opinion, seven lugs per track, that is, only 14 per tank. They were in the spare parts box. In general, the work of the Americans was well-defined, any deficiency noticed was eliminated very quickly.

Another drawback of Sherman is the design of the driver's hatch. For the Shermans of the first batches, this hatch, located in the roof of the hull, simply folded up and to the side. The driver opened it frequently, sticking his head out so that it could be seen better. So we had cases when, when turning the tower, the gun touched the hatch and, falling, it twisted the driver's neck. We have had one or two such cases. Then it was removed and the hatch was lifted and simply moved to the side, like on modern tanks.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

Sherman had a drive wheel in front, that is, the propeller shaft went through the entire tank, from the engine to the checkpoint. At the thirty-four, it all stood side by side. Another big plus for Sherman was the recharging of the batteries. On our thirty-four, to charge the battery, we had to drive the engine to full power, all 500 horses. Sherman had a charging gasoline walk-behind tractor in the fighting compartment, as small as a motorcycle. I started it - and it charged your battery.It was a great thing for us!

After the war, I was looking for an answer to one question for a long time. If the T-34 caught fire, then we tried to run away from it, although this was forbidden. Ammunition exploded. For some time, from a month and a half, I fought in a T-34, near Smolensk. They knocked out the commander of one of the companies of our battalion. The crew jumped out of the tank and the Germans jammed them with machine-gun fire. They lay there, in the buckwheat, and at that time the tank exploded. In the evening, when the battle had died down, we approached them. I looked, the commander was lying, and a piece of armor smashed his head. But when Sherman burned down, the shells did not explode. Why is that?

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

Once in Ukraine there was such a case. I was temporarily appointed to the post of chief of the battalion's artillery supplies. Knocked out our tank. We jumped out of it, and the Germans gripped us with heavy mortar fire. We climbed under the tank, and it caught fire. Here we lie and have nowhere to go. And where to? In field? There, the Germans at a high-rise shoot everything from machine guns and mortars. We are lying down. Already in the back the heat bakes. The tank is on fire. We think, everything, now it will go bang and there will be a mass grave. Hear, in the tower boom boom boom! Yeah, this is armor-piercing knocks out of the casings: they were unitary. Now the fire will reach the fragmentation and how will it gasp! But nothing happened. Why is that? Why do our fragmentation devices break, but the American ones do not? In short, it turned out that the Americans had a cleaner explosive, and we had some kind of component that increased the force of the explosion by one and a half times, but at the same time increased the risk of an ammunition explosion.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

It is considered an advantage that the Sherman was painted very well from the inside. Is it so?

- Good - that's not the right word! Wonderful! It was something for us then. As they say now - renovation! It was some kind of euro apartment! First, it is beautifully painted. Secondly, the seats are comfortable, they were covered with some wonderful special leatherette. If your tank was damaged, then it was worth leaving the tank unattended for just a few minutes, as the infantry cut off the entire leatherette. And all because wonderful boots were sewn from it! Just a lovely sight!

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

- Dmitry Fedorovich, how did you feel about the Germans? How about fascists and invaders or not?

- When in front of you, with weapons in hand, is a German and the question is who will win, then there was only one attitude - the enemy. As soon as he threw down his weapon or took him prisoner, the attitude is completely different. I have not been to Germany, but in Hungary there was such a case. We had a German trophy meeting. We broke through in a column to the rear of the Germans at night. We are driving along the highway, and our meeting has fallen behind. And here we are joined by exactly the same meeting with the Germans. The column stopped after some reason. I go, check the column in the usual way: "Is everything all right?" - everything is fine. I went to the last car, asked "Sasha, is everything all right?", And from there "Was?" What's happened? Germans! I immediately jumped to the side and shouted "Germans!" We surrounded them. There is a driver and two others. They disarmed them, and here our meeting rolls up. I say, "Sasha, where have you been?"

So as long as a German has a weapon - he is my enemy, and unarmed, he is the same person.

- That is, there was no such hatred?

- Of course not. We understood that they are the same people, and many are the same servants.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

- How did your relations with the civilian population develop?

- When in March 1944 the 2nd Ukrainian Front reached the border with Romania, we stopped, and from March to August the front was stable. According to the laws of wartime, the entire civilian population should be evicted from the 100-kilometer front line. And people have already planted vegetable gardens. And then on the radio they announced the eviction, the next morning they brought in transport. Moldovans clutch their heads with tears - how can that be? Throw the economy! And when they return, what will be left here? But they were evacuated. So there was no contact with the local population. And then I was still the chief of the battalion's artillery supplies. The brigade commander calls me up and says "Loza, are you a peasant?" I say yes, peasant."Well, if so, then I appoint you a foreman! So that all the gardens are weeded, everything grows, and so on. And God forbid that at least one cucumber is picked! So that nothing is touched. If you need, then plant for yourself." Brigades were organized, in my brigade there were 25 people. All summer we looked after the vegetable gardens, and in the fall, when the troops left, they told us to invite the chairman of the collective farm, representatives, and we handed over all these fields and vegetable gardens to them according to the act. When the mistress of the house where I lived returned, she immediately ran to the garden and … was dumbfounded. And there - and huge pumpkins, and tomatoes and watermelons … She ran back, fell at my feet and began to kiss my boots "Son! So we thought that everything is empty, broken. But it turned out that we have everything, it only remains to collect! " Here's an example of how we treated our population.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

During the war, medicine worked well, but there was a case for which doctors should simply be hanged! Guys, Romania was just a venereal cesspool all over Europe! There was a saying "If you have 100 lei, then have at least kings!" When we were captured by the Germans, they each had several condoms in their pockets, five to ten of them. Our political workers agitated "You see! They have it to rape our women!" And the Germans were smarter than us and understood what a venereal disease was. And our doctors at least warned about these diseases! We passed through Romania quickly, but we had a terrible outbreak of venereal diseases. In general, there were two hospitals in the army: surgical and DLR (for lightly wounded). So the doctors were forced to open a venereal department, although this was not provided for by the state.

How did we treat the Hungarian population? When we entered Hungary in October 1944, we saw practically empty settlements. Sometimes, you go into a house, the stove is on fire, something is being cooked on it, but not a single person is in the house. I remember in some city, on the wall of a house there was a giant banner with a picture of a Russian soldier gnawing on a child. That is, they were so much intimidated that where they could run away, they ran away! They abandoned all their household. And then, over time, they began to understand that all this is nonsense and propaganda, they began to return.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

I remember we were standing in northern Hungary, on the border with Czechoslovakia. Then I was already the chief of staff of the battalion. In the morning they report to me: here a Magyark woman goes to the barn at night. And we had counterintelligence officers in our army. Smershevtsy. Moreover, in the tank forces, there was a smershevets in every tank battalion, and in the infantry only from the regiment and above. I say to my fellow, come on, let's go there! They joked around in the barn. Found a young girl, 18-19 years old. They dragged her out of there, and she is already covered in scabs, she has a cold. This Magyark woman is in tears, she thought, now we will rape this girl. "Fool, no one will touch her with a finger! On the contrary, we will cure her." They took the girl to the battalion first-aid post. Cured. So she then constantly went to us, spent more time with us than at home. When I found myself in Hungary twenty years after the war, I met her. Such a beautiful lady! She is already married, the children are gone.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

- It turns out that you have not had any excesses with the local population?

- No, it was not. Now, once I had to drive somewhere in Hungary. They took one Magyar as a guide, so as not to get lost - the country is foreign. He did his job, we gave him money, gave him canned food and released him.

- In your book "Commanding Red Army Sherman Tanks" it is written that since January 1944 in the 233rd tank brigade M4A2 Shermans were armed not with short 75-mm, but with long-barreled 76-mm cannons. It was too early for January 1944, such tanks appeared later. Explain once again what kind of guns the Shermans were armed with in the 233rd Tank Brigade?

- I don’t know, we had few Shermans with short-barreled guns. Very little. Mostly with long-barreled guns. Not only our brigade fought on the Shermans, maybe they were in other brigades? Somewhere in the hull I saw such tanks, but we had tanks with a long gun.

- Dmitry Fedorovich, in every Sherman who came to the USSR there was a personal weapon for the crew: Thompson submachine guns. I read that these weapons were plundered by rear units and practically never reached the tankers. What weapon did you have: American or Soviet?

“Each Sherman was supplied with two Thompson submachine guns. Caliber 11, 43 mm - such a healthy cartridge! But the machine gun was shoddy. We had several cases. The guys, on a dare, put on a pair of quilted jackets, retreated, they were shot at. And this bullet got stuck in quilted jackets! That was such a shitty machine gun. Here is a German machine gun with a folding stock (meaning the Erma MP-40 submachine gun - V_P), we loved for its compactness. And Thompson is healthy - you can't turn around with him in the tank.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

The Shermans were armed with anti-aircraft machine guns. Were they often used?

“I don’t know why, but one batch of tanks came with machine guns, and the other without. We used this machine gun against both aircraft and ground targets. They were rarely used against aircraft because the Germans were not stupid either: they bombed either from a height or from a steep dive. The machine gun was good at 400-600 meters. And the Germans were bombing, probably, from 800 meters and above. He threw a bomb and quickly left. Try it, dog, shoot it down! So it was used, but ineffective. We even used a cannon against the planes: you put the tank on the slope of the hill and shoot. But the general impression is that the machine gun is good. These machine guns helped us a lot in the war with Japan - against suicide bombers. They shot so much that the machine guns got hot and began to spit. I still have a splinter from an anti-aircraft machine gun in my head.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

- In your book, you write about the battle for Tynovka of units of the 5th mechanized corps. You write that the battle took place on January 26, 1944. Here the comrade dug out German maps, judging by which, on January 26, 1944, Tynovka was in Soviet hands. In addition, the comrade unearthed a German reconnaissance report based on the interrogation of a Soviet lieutenant from the 359th SD anti-tank battalion, who showed that Soviet T-34s and American medium tanks, as well as several KVs camouflaged with straw, were stationed in Tynovka. A comrade asks if there could be a mistake with the date, he says that a week earlier Tynovka was really in German hands?

- It may very well be. Guys, there was such a mess! The situation changed by leaps and bounds. We surrounded the Korsun-Shevchenko group of Germans. They began to break through, and the Germans also hit us from the outer ring to help their own break out of the ring. The battles were so hard that in one day Tynovka changed hands several times.

- You write that on January 29, the 5th mechanized corps moved west to support the units of the 1st Ukrainian Front, which were holding back the German counteroffensive. A few days later, the mechanized corps was in the Vinograd area. Consequently, on February 1, he found himself in the path of the main attack of the German 16th and 17th Panzer Divisions of the 3rd Panzer Corps. This blow was delivered from the Rusakovka - Novaya Greblya region to the north and northeast. In a few days, the Germans captured Vinograd, Tynovka, crossed the Gniloy Tikich River and reached Antonovka. Could you describe the role of the mechanized corps in the unfolding battle?

- We surrounded the Germans, closed the cauldron and immediately threw us to the outer front of the encirclement. The weather was terrible, impassable mud during the day: I jumped off the tank into the mud, so it was easier to get you out of your boots than your boots out of the mud. And at night the frost hit and the mud froze. It was through this mud that they threw us to the external front. We had very few tanks left. To create the appearance of great strength, at night we lit the headlights on tanks and vehicles and moved forward and stood in defense with the whole corps. The Germans decided that many troops were buried in the defense, but in fact, the corps was equipped with tanks by about thirty percent by that time. The battles were so hard that the weapons were heated, and, at times, the bullets melted. You shoot, and they flop into the mud, a hundred meters from you.The Germans were torn like mad, no matter what, they had nothing to lose. In small groups, they still managed to break through.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

- Did you lock the hatches during the battles in the city?

- We always locked the hatches. I have never heard of such an order. When I burst into Vienna, my tank was thrown with grenades from the upper floors of buildings. I ordered to drive all the tanks into the arches of houses and bridges. And from time to time he had to take his tank out to an open place in order to spread the whip antenna and communicate with the command by radio. The radio operator and the driver-mechanic fiddled around inside the tank, and the hatch was left open. And from above, someone threw a grenade into the hatch. It exploded on the back of the radio operator and both died. So in the city we always closed the hatches.

- The main striking power of cumulative ammunition, which included the faust cartridges, is the high pressure in the tank, which affects the crew. If the hatches were kept ajar, then there was a chance to survive.

“That's true, but we kept the hatches closed anyway. Maybe in other parts it was different. Still, the Faustists hit the engine first of all. The tank caught fire, like it or not, you jump out of the tank. And then they were already shooting the crew with a machine gun.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

- What is the chance to survive if the tank is knocked out?

- On April 19, 1945 in Austria I was hit. The tiger pierced us through and through, the projectile went through the entire fighting compartment and through the engine. There were three officers in the tank: I, as a battalion commander, company commander Sasha Ionov, his tank had already been knocked out, and the tank commander. Three officers and a driver and a radio operator. When the Tiger stitched us, a driver-mechanic died, my entire left leg was broken, Sasha Ionov's right leg was torn off, his right leg was torn off, the tank commander was wounded, the gun commander Lesha Romashkin was sitting below my feet, both of his legs were torn off. By the way, just shortly before this fight, we somehow sat, had dinner, and Lesha said to me, "If my legs are torn off, I will shoot myself. Who will need me?" He was in an orphanage, there were no relatives. And now, indeed, fate decreed. They pulled Sasha out, pulled him out, and began to help the rest of them get out. And at that moment Lesha shot himself.

In general, one or two people are sure to either injure or kill. It depends on where the projectile hits.

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

- Did the soldiers and junior command personnel receive any money? Salary, cash benefits?

- Compared to regular, non-guards, units in guards units, privates and sergeants up to and including the foreman received a double salary, and officers - one and a half. For example, my company commander received 800 rubles. When I became a battalion commander, I received either 1200 rubles or 1500 rubles. I don’t remember exactly. In any case, we did not receive all the money in our hands. All our money was kept in the field savings bank, in your personal account. The money could be sent to the family. That is, we did not carry money in our pockets, this state did it wisely. Why do you need money in battle?

-What could you buy with this money?

- For example, when we were at the formation in Gorky, we went to the market with my friend Kolya Averkiev. A good guy, but he died literally in the first battles! We come, we look, one huckster sells bread. He holds one loaf in his hands, and a couple of loaves in the briefcase. Kolya asks "How much for a loaf?", He answers "Three oblique". Kolya did not know what "oblique" meant, took out three rubles and held it out. He says, "Are you crazy?" Kolya was taken aback, "How is that? You asked for three oblique, and I give you three rubles!" The huckster says "Three oblique - that's three hundred rubles!" Kolya to him "Oh, you infection! You speculate here, and we shed blood for you at the front!" And we, as officers, had personal weapons. Kolya took out his pistol. The huckster grabbed three rubles and immediately retreated.

In addition to money, officers were given additional rations once a month. It included 200 grams of butter, a pack of biscuits, a pack of cookies, and, I think, cheese. By the way, a couple of days after the incident on the market, we were given additional rations.We cut a loaf of bread lengthwise, spread it with butter and put cheese on top. Oh, how great it turned out!

Interview with a Soviet tankman who fought on allied tanks

- What reward was due for a destroyed tank, guns, etc.? Who determined this, or were there strict rules of encouragement and reward? When the enemy tank was destroyed, was the entire crew awarded or only some of its members?

- Money was given to the crew and was divided equally among the crew members.

In Hungary, in the middle of 1944, at one of the rallies, we decided that we would collect all the money that was due to us for the destroyed equipment in a common pot and then send it to the families of our comrades who died. And now after the war, while working in the archive, I came across a statement I signed about the transfer of money to the families of our friends: three thousand, five thousand, and so on.

In the Balaton area we broke through to the rear of the Germans, and it so happened that we shot a German tank column, knocked out 19 tanks, 11 of them heavy. There are many cars. In total, we were credited with the destroyed 29 military units of equipment. We received 1,000 rubles for each damaged tank.

There were a lot of Muscovite tankers in our brigade, since our brigade was formed in Naro-Fominsk, and replenishment came to us from the Moscow military registration and enlistment offices. Therefore, when, after the war, I went to study at the military academy, I tried, as much as possible, to meet with the families of the victims. Of course, the conversation was sad, but they needed it so much, because I am the person who knows how their son, father or brother died. And I often tell them this and that, I name the date. And they remember, but that day we were uncomfortable. So we got the money then. And sometimes we managed to send not money, but packages with trophies.

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