About 15 years ago, being a correspondent for a republican newspaper, I had to often travel to the capital, sometimes in an official car, which was attached to several correspondents at once, who used it in turn. On the way to Minsk, the driver usually turned into a parking lot near the Khatyn memorial complex, and we had a quick snack at a roadside cafe. There was also a large restaurant, which, it seems, was called Partizansky Bor, but we did not go there: it was intended for distinguished guests and wealthy tourists, and the menu there was exquisite and expensive. In addition, it seemed to me a sacrilege to eat delicacies near the village that was burned together with the inhabitants.
During one of these stops, I slipped into a group of tourists imperceptibly to listen to the guide with them. Moreover, this time it turned out to be the director of the museum "Khatyn and the Mound of Glory" Anatoly Bely, whom I knew from Minsk when he worked in the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, where my classmate in philology also worked, later a candidate of historical sciences Tatiana Grosheva.
After the excursion, A. Bely and I stepped aside and started talking. And I told him that I had recently learned from a central Russian newspaper that the village of Khatyn had been burned, in fact, not by the Germans, but by policemen, immigrants from Ukraine.
“I have known about this for a long time,” agreed the director of the museum, “but I must repeat the official version.
And then, having probably heard what the conversation was about, one of the tourists, a stocky, very thin old man with characteristic traces of skin burns on his face and hands, intervened in the dialogue.
“The whole truth about the war will never be told,” he entered into the conversation. - Do you, learned people, know where and when the largest tank battle in history took place?
He puzzled us with this question.
- On the Kursk Bulge, - I answered without hesitation.
- Near Prokhorovka, in the Belgorod direction, - clarified the certified historian Anatoly Bely.
“Your mob is with this Prokhorovka,” the old man protested intricately. The sintered skin on his forehead turned white, he reached into his jacket for cigarettes, the medals on his chest clinked, and I mentally marked the ribbons of the "Red Star" and "Red Banner" on his order strips.
“This Prokhorovka was given to you,” he continued. - Yes, there were at most eight hundred tanks on both sides, although they lie that there are more than a thousand. And near Senno, where I was in 1941, more than two thousand tanks and self-propelled guns converged. Only we were gouged there and driven to the east, so they write about the Kursk Bulge and Prokhorovka. And about Senno they were silent and will remain silent.
I had a pocket recorder with me, I turned it on and recorded the veteran's nervous speech. He claimed that at the beginning of the war, in early July 1941, he was a tank commander and got into the 5th corps of General Kurochkin's 20th army in a battle with the German tank army, where there were at least 2 thousand combat vehicles on both sides … And it was on July 6, 1941, 2 years before the Battle of Prokhorovka, which is described in all history textbooks and military memoirs of Soviet commanders. But from what the former tankman said on my tape recorder then, it followed that the tank battle near Senno was really unique in terms of the number of opposing vehicles. And one of the largest in the number of victims from the Soviet troops.
“Our tanks were weaker than the German ones in all respects,” said a participant in the Battle of Senno. “And the motors were inferior to the German ones in power, and the armor was thinner, and the gun was worse. And most importantly, the Germans already had enough experience. They pearled at us confidently, fired shells on the move, and our tanks burned like candles. My car was hit ten minutes after the start of the battle, - said the old man. - The driver died immediately, and I was burned, but managed to get out of the tank.All of our people who survived then were surrounded, and after they got out of it, only six tanks and about twenty wounded people remained in our regiment. We retreated somehow, first to Dubrovno, then to Smolensk, and from there we were sent to Moscow, where our corps was reorganized.
Returning to Vitebsk, I transferred the recording from the cassette to paper and the next day, as promised, I sent the text to Anatoly Bely by mail. Soon I received an answer from him.
“Apparently, the old man spoke the pure truth,” wrote the historian. - I found confirmation of the correctness of his words. In the six-volume "History of the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union 1941-1945. (v. 2, 1961, p. 40) it is reported that on July 6, 1941, the troops of the 20th army, which was then commanded by Lieutenant General P.A. Kurochkin, launched a counterattack from the Orsha region against the troops of the 3rd tank group (according to our classification - the army) of the Germans. The 7th and 5th Panzer Corps, which had about 1,000 tanks, took part in the counterattack. The enemy's 3rd tank group had about the same number of vehicles. So it turns out, - wrote A. Bely, - that on both sides about 2 thousand tanks participated in the battle - twice as many as at Prokhorovka. The same book says that “in fierce battles our mechanized corps inflicted heavy losses on the enemy and threw him back 30-40 km towards Lepel. But near Senno the Germans threw the 47th Motorized Corps into a counteroffensive. " It is here, presumably, - wrote Anatoly Bely, - that the battle that its participant told us about in Khatyn took place. And, judging by what is reported about it in the official history, it was indeed the largest tank battle of the Great Patriotic War, and therefore - both World War II and all wars of the twentieth century. Another thing is that its results were unenviable for the Soviet side. As reported in the aforementioned publication, "our troops withstood up to 15 attacks a day, and then they had to break out of the encirclement and retreat."
Further in the letter to A. Bely was the following: “Soviet sources did not report our losses in that battle, but if indeed all our tanks died (and there is no doubt about that), then we can safely talk about at least 5 thousand dead - soldiers and officers. In other major works on the history of the war, - wrote A. Bely, - there is already nothing about the tank battle near Senno. True, in the 12-volume "History of World War II 1939-1945", published under Leonid Brezhnev, on page 46 of volume 4, the battle of Senno is regarded as an ordinary "counterstrike of our troops by the forces of the 5th and 7th mechanized corps of the 20th army of General PA Kurochkin on the division of the 3rd tank group of the Germans in the Lepel direction in the Senno area. " Not a word about the number of tanks and the brutality of the battles. Everything is veiled in military terminology and is so intricately stated that it is difficult even for a historian to understand."
Then, 15 years ago, the historian Anatoly Bely found it difficult to understand this vague statement of facts. But from the standpoint of our present experience, everything is very clear. It was a different time, different ideological attitudes. Every word about the war was censored by Glavpur, the Main Political Directorate of the USSR Ministry of Defense.
Nothing can be changed in those books sifted by censors. But it is a sin for us, modern Belarusians, to hush up the undoubted fact that the largest and most brutal tank battle of the 20th century took place not just anywhere, but in the Vitebsk region, near Senno … what "Stalin's Lines", and to please about the perpetuation of the heroes who fell near Senno in an unequal battle with Hitler's armored hordes. It is correct that the President of Belarus lays flowers near Prokhorovka in Russia. But why not lay flowers near Senno, where Soviet tanks burned like candles and where there is still no even a modest sign in memory of that terrible, great battle of engines and people?
It is high time to pay tribute to the feat of tankers, who laid down their heads for their native land, for the freedom of their descendants.Respect for their memory would not be a superfluous contribution of Belarus to perpetuating the tragic and glorious pages of the common history of Europe and the world.