Dmitriy Loza, tank commander of Matilda, T-34 and Sherman
Created on Wednesday, 19 September 2001 00:10
Last Updated on Monday, 19 September 2011 16:18
Author: Valeri Potapov
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- Dmitriy Fedorovich, on which American tanks did you fight?
- On Shermans. We called them "Emchas", from M4 [in Russian, em chetyrye]. Initially they had the short main gun, and later they began to arrive with the long gun and muzzle brake. On the front slope armor there was a travel lock for securing the barrel during road marches. The main gun was quite long. Overall, this was a good vehicle but, as with any tank, it had its pluses and minuses. When someone says to me that this was a bad tank, I respond, "Excuse me!" One cannot say that this was a bad tank. Bad as compared to what?
- Did you have just American tanks in your unit?
- Our 6th Guards Tank Army (yes, we had six of them) fought in Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. We ended the war for us in Czechoslovakia. Then they rushed us to the Far East and we fought against Japan. I briefly remind you that the army consisted of two corps: 5th Guards Tank Stalingrad Corps on our own T-34s and 5th Mechanized Corps, in which I fought. For the first time this corps had British Matildas, Valentines, and Churchills.
- They delivered the Churchill later.
- Yes, a bit later. After 1943 we largely declined British tanks because they had significant deficiencies. In particular, they had 12-14 h.p. per ton of weight at a time when good tanks had 18-20 h.p. per ton. Of these three British tanks, the best was the Valentine produced in Canada. Its armor was streamlined but more importantly, it featured a long-barreled 57mm main gun. My unit switched over to American Shermans at the end of 1943. After the Kishinev Operation our corps became the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps. I missed to tell you that every corps consisted of four brigades. Our mechanized corps had three mechanized brigades and one tank brigade, in which I fought. A tank corps had three tank brigades and one mechanized brigade. Yes, we had Shermans in our brigade at the end of 1943.
- But the British tanks were not withdrawn from service, so they fought until they were gone. Wasn't there a period when your corps had a mixture of tanks, both American and British? Were there any problems associated with the presence of such a broad variety of vehicles from different countries? For example, with supply and maintenance?
- Well, there were always problems. In general, the Matilda was an unbelievably worthless tank! I will tell you about one of the Matilda's deficiencies that caused us a great deal of trouble. Some fool in the General Staff planned an operation and sent our corps to the area of Yelnya, Smolensk, and Roslavl. The terrain there was forested swamp. The Matilda had skirts along the sides. The tank was developed primarily for operations in the desert. These skirts worked well in the desert-the sand passed through the rectangular slots in them. But in the forested swamps of Russia the mud packed into the space between the tracks and these side skirts. The Matilda transmission had a servomechanism for ease of shifting. In our conditions this component was weak, constantly overheated, and then failed. This was fine for the British. By 1943 they had developed a replacement unit that could be installed simply by unscrewing four mounting bolts, pulling out the old unit, and installing the new unit. It did not always work this way for us. In my battalion we had Senior Sergeant (Starshina) Nesterov, a former kolkhoz tractor driver (Kolkhoz is sort of farm - Valeri), in the position of battalion mechanic. In general each of our tank companies had a mechanic and Nesterov was it for the battalion. At our corps level we had a representative (whose name I have forgotten) of the British firm that produced these tanks. At one time I had it written down, but when my tank was hit everything I had in it burned up -photographs, documents, and notebook. We were forbidden to keep notes at the front, but I did it on the sly. Anyway, this British representative constantly interfered with our efforts to repair separate components of the tank. He said, "This has a factory seal. You should not tinker with it!" We were supposed to take out a component and install a new one. Nesterov made a simple repair to all these transmissions. One time the British representative came up to Nesterov and asked him, "At which university did you study?" And Nesterov replied, "At the kolkhoz!"
The Sherman was light years better in this regard. Did you know that one of the designers of the Sherman was a Russian engineer named Timoshenko? He was some shirt tail relative of Marshal S. K. Timoshenko.
The Sherman had its weaknesses, the greatest of which was its high center of gravity. The tank frequently tipped over on its side, like a Matryoshka doll (a wooden stacking doll). But I am alive today thanks to this deficiency. We were fighting in Hungary in December 1944. I was leading the battalion and on a turn my driver-mechanic clipped a curb. My tank went over on its side. We were thrown around, of course, but we survived the experience. Meanwhile the other four of my tanks went ahead and drove into an ambush. They were all destroyed.
- The Sherman had a rubber-coated metal track. Some contemporary authors point to this as a deficiency, since in combat the rubber might be set on fire. With the track thus stripped bare, the tank is disabled. What can you say in this regard?
- On the one hand this rubber-coated track was a big plus. In the first place, this track had a service life approximately twice that of steel track. I might be mistaken, but I believe that the service life of the T-34 track was 2500 kilometers. The service life of the Sherman track was in excess of 5000 kilometers. Secondly, The Sherman drove like a car on hard surfaces, and our T-34 made so much noise that only the devil knows how many kilometers away it could be heard. What was the bad side of the Sherman track? In my book, Commanding the Red Army's Sherman Tanks, there is a chapter entitled "Barefooted". There I wrote about an incident that occurred in August 1944 in Romania, during the Jassy-Kishinev Operation. The heat was fearsome, somewhere around 30° C. We had driven approximately 100 km along a highway in a single day. The rubber linings on our support rollers got so hot that the rubber separated and peeled off in long pieces. Our corps paused not far from Bucharest. The rubber was flying around, the rollers had begun to jam up, the noise was terrible, and in the end we had been stopped. This was immediately reported to Moscow. Was this some kind of joke, an entire corps had halted? To our surprise, they brought new support rollers to us quickly and we spent three days installing them. I still don't know where they found so many support rollers in such a short time. There was yet another minus of rubber track. Even on a slightly icy surface the tank slid around like a fat cow. When this happened we had to tie barbed wire around the track or make grousers out of chains or bolts, anything to give us traction. But this was with the first shipment of tanks. Having seen this, the American representative reported to his company and the next shipment of tanks was accompanied by additional track blocks with grousers and spikes. If I recall, there were up to seven blocks for each track, for a total of fourteen per tank. We carried them in our parts bin. In general the American representative worked efficiently. Any deficiency that he observed and reported was quickly and effectively corrected.
One more shortcoming of the Sherman was the construction of the driver's hatch. The hatch on the first shipment of Shermans was located in the roof of the hull and simply opened upward. Frequently the driver-mechanic opened it and raised his head in order to see better. There were several occasions when during the rotation of the turret the main gun struck this hatch and knocked it into the driver's head. We had this happen once or twice in my own unit. Later the Americans corrected this deficiency. Now the hatch rose up and simply moved to the side, like on modern tanks.
Still one great plus of the Sherman was in the charging of its batteries. On our T-34 it was necessary to run the engine, all 500 horsepower of it, in order to charge batteries. In the crew compartment of the Sherman was an auxiliary gasoline engine, small like a motorcycle's one. Start it up and it charged the batteries. This was a big deal to us!
For a long time after the war I sought an answer to one question. If a T-34 started burning, we tried to get as far away from it as possible, even though this was forbidden. The on-board ammunition exploded. For a brief period of time, perhaps six weeks, I fought on a T-34 around Smolensk. The commander of one of our companies was hit in his tank. The crew jumped out of the tank but were unable to run away from it because the Germans were pinning them down with machine gun fire. They lay there in the wheat field as the tank burned and blew up. By evening, when the battle had waned, we went to them. I found the company commander lying on the ground with a large piece of armor sticking out of his head. When a Sherman burned, the main gun ammunition did not explode. Why was this?
Such a case occurred once in Ukraine. Our tank was hit. We jumped out of it but the Germans were dropping mortar rounds around us. We lay under the tank as it burned. We laid there a long time with nowhere to go. The Germans were covering the empty field around the tank with machine gun and mortar fires. We lay there. The uniform on my back was beginning heating up from the burning tank. We thought we were finished! We would hear a big bang and it would all be over! A brother's grave! We heard many loud thumps coming from the turret. This was the armor-piercing rounds being blown out of their cases. Next the fire would reach the high explosive rounds and all hell would break loose! But nothing happened. Why not? Because our high explosive rounds detonated and the American rounds did not? In the end it was because the American ammunition had more refined explosives. Ours was some kind of component that increased the force of the explosion one and one-half times, at the same time increasing the risk of detonation of the ammunition.
- It is considered noteworthy that the Sherman was very well appointed on the inside. Was this true?
- It was true. These are not just words! They were beautiful! For us then this was something. As they say now, "Euro-repair"! This was some kind of European picture! In the first place, it was painted beautifully. Secondly, the seats were comfortable, covered with some kind of remarkable special artificial leather. If a tank was knocked out or damaged, then if it was left unguarded literally for just several minutes the infantry would strip out all this upholstery. It made excellent boots! Simply beautiful!
- How did you regard the Germans? As fascists and occupiers or not?
- When one is standing in front of you with a weapon in his hands, and it is a question of who will kill whom, there was only one response. He was the enemy. As soon as the German threw down his weapon or we captured him, then it was quite another matter. I was not in Germany. I have already told you where I fought. Here is an incident from Hungary. We had a trophy German "letuchka" (light maintenance truck). We had penetrated into the German rear in column. We were going along a road and our light truck had fallen back. Then another light German truck, just like our own, attached itself to the back of our column. A while later our column halted. I was walking down the column, checking vehicles. "Is everything in order?" Everything was fine. I approached the last vehicle in the column and asked, "Sasha, is everything OK?" In response I heard "Vas?" What was this? Germans! I immediately jumped to the side and cried out "Germans!" We surrounded them, a driver and two others. We disarmed them and only then did our own light truck come up the road. I said, "Sasha, where were you?" He responded, "We got lost." "Well, look," I said to him, "Here is another light truck for you!"
- So, you didn't have hatred for these enemy soldiers, did you?
- No, of course not. We understood that they were also human beings.
- What about your relationships with the civilian population?
- When the 2nd Ukrainian Front reached the Romanian border in March 1944 we stopped, and remained in place until August. In accordance with wartime laws, the entire civilian population had to be removed from the front-line zone to a depth of 100 kilometers. These people had already planted their field gardens. The authorities announced the evacuation to the population over the radio and sent out transportation to pick them up the next morning. With tears in their eyes these Moldavians shook their heads. How could this be? They had to abandon their fields! What would be left upon their return? So the evacuation went ahead as required, and we had practically no contact with the civilian population. At the time I was chief of staff for ammunition supply for the battalion. The brigade commander summoned me and said, "Loza, are you from peasant stock?" I replied in the affirmative. "Well, I thought so. I'm appointing you as team chief! You will be responsible for weeding these gardens and ensuring that everything grows and so on. And God forbid that even one cucumber is spoiled! Don't touch anything! If necessary, plant your own crops." Teams were organized; in my brigade we had 25 men. All spring and summer long we fussed over these field gardens. In the fall, when the troops departed, we were told to invite a kolkhoz chairman as a representative, and we formally signed over to him all these field and kitchen gardens. When the housewife returned to the home where I myself was living, she immediately ran out to her garden and was dumbfounded. There she saw enormous pumpkins, tomatoes, and melons. She returned to the house on the run, fell at my feet, and began to kiss my boots. "Dear son! We thought that everything would be dried up and beat down. But it turns out that we have everything, and all we have to do is gather it in!" This is an example of how we related to our populace.
In the war medicine worked well, but there were cases for which the medics could do nothing except hang their head! Fellows, Romania at that time was simply the venereal cesspool of all of Europe! We had a saying: "If you have 100 Lei (Romanian currency) you may sleep with a queen!" When some German POWs fell into our hands, their pockets were full of prophylactics, as many as 5-10. Our political officers made a big deal out of this "Look at this! They have these so they can rape our women!" But the Germans were smarter than we were and understood what venereal disease could do to an army. If only our own medics had warned us about these diseases! Even though we passed through Romania quickly, we had a terrible outbreak of venereal disease in our units. Our army had two hospitals: one for surgical cases and the other for light wounds. They were forced to open a venereal section, even though it was not provided for in the table of organization and equipment.
Here is how we interacted with the Hungarian population. When we entered Hungary in October 1944, we saw practically deserted villages. When we entered homes we found warm stoves, with food warming on them, but not a person in the house. I recall that in one town a gigantic banner hung on the wall of a house. It depicted a Russian soldier eating a baby. These people were so terrified that when they were able to flee, they fled! They abandoned all their possessions. Later, with the passage of time, as they began to understand that all this was nonsense and propaganda, they began to return to their homes.
I recall when we halted in northern Hungary, on the border with Czechoslovakia. At that time I was already chief of staff of the battalion. One morning they reported to me that an old Hungarian woman had entered a barn the previous night. We had counterintelligence personnel in our army who worked for SMERSH (Russian for "Smert Shpionam" or "death to spies", the NKVD structure within the Red Army). There was a SMERSH officer in each tank battalion, and in infantry units only beginning at regiment and above. I told my SMERSH officer to go check it out. They poked around in the shed and found a young girl, 18 or 19 years old. When they dragged her out she was all covered with scabs and coughing. This old woman was in tears, thinking that now we would rape her daughter. Nonsense! No one laid a finger on her! On the contrary, we gave her medical treatment. Later she came to us often, spending more time with us than at home. When I visited Hungary twenty years after the war, I met her. What a beautiful woman! She was married and had children.
- Therefore, you didn't observe any excesses with the civilian population, did you?
- No we didn't. One time I had to go somewhere in Hungary. We took one Hungarian as a guide so that we would not get lost -after all this was a foreign country. He did his work and we gave him money and canned meat and let him go.
- In your book "Commanding the Red Army's Sherman Tanks" you wrote that the 233rd Tank Brigade's M4A2 Shermans were armed not with the short-barreled 75mm but the long-barreled 76mm main gun in January 1944. Wasn't this a bit early? Didn't these tanks appear later? Explain one more time which main guns were mounted on the Shermans of the 233rd Tank Brigade.
- Hmm, I don't know. We had very few Shermans with the short-barreled main gun. On the whole, ours had long-barrels. Not just our brigade fought on Shermans. Perhaps these were in other brigades. Somewhere in the corps I saw such tanks, but we had the tanks with the long barrels.
- There were personal weapons in each Sherman that arrived in the USSR, Thompson submachine guns (also known as the Tommy gun). I read that rear area personnel stole these weapons and that few tanks arrived in units still equipped with them. What kind of weapons did you have, American or Soviet?
- Each Sherman came with two Thompson submachine guns, in caliber 11.43mm (.45 cal), a healthy cartridge indeed! But the submachine gun was worthless. We had several bad experiences with it. A few of our men who got into an argument were wearing padded jackets. It turned out that they fired at each other and the bullet buried itself in the padded jacket. So much for the worthless submachine gun. Take a German submachine gun with folding stock (MP-40 SMG by Erma -Valeri). We loved it for its compactness. The Thompson was big. You couldn't turn around in the tank holding it.
- The Sherman had an antiaircraft machine gun Browning M2 .50 caliber. Did you use it often?
- I don't know why, but one shipment of tanks arrived with machine guns, and another without them. We used this machine gun against both aircraft and ground targets. We used it less frequently against air targets because the Germans were not fools. They bombed either from altitude or from a steep dive. The machine gun was good to 400-600 meters in the vertical. The Germans would drop their bombs from say, 800 meters or higher. He dropped his bomb and departed quickly. Try to shoot the bastard down! So yes, we used it, but it was not very effective. We even used our main gun against aircraft. We placed the tank on the upslope of a hill and fired. But our general impression of the machine gun was good. These machine guns were of great use to us in the war with Japan, against kamikazes. We fired them so much that they got red hot and began to cook off. To this day I have a piece of shrapnel in my head from an antiaircraft machine gun.
- In your book you write about a battle for Tynovka by units of 5th Mechanized Corps. You write that the battle was on 26 January 1944. Someone has gone there and excavated some German maps, judging by which Tynovka was already in Soviet hands on 26 January 1944. In addition, the man also dug up a German intelligence report, based on the interrogation of a Soviet lieutenant from the anti-tank battalion of 359th Rifle Division. This report indicated that Soviet T-34s and American medium tanks, along with some KVs camouflaged with thatch straw, were positioned in Tynovka. This man is asking whether you could be mistaken regarding the date. He indicates that a week earlier Tynovka was in fact in German hands.
- It was quite possible. Keep in mind how confusing the situation was there! Fellows, there was such a mess! The situation changed not by the day, but by the hour. We encircled the Germans' Korsun-Shevchenkovskiy grouping. They began to break out at the same time Germans outside the ring were attacking us to help their comrades inside. These battles were so heavy that Tynovka changed hands several times in one day.
- You write that on 29 January 5th Mechanized Corps advanced to the west to support units of 1st Ukrainian Front, which were holding back the German counterattack. Several days later the mechanized corps was in the Vinograd area. Subsequently, on 1 February the corps was in the path of the main attack of the German 16th and 17th Panzer Divisions, 3d Tank Corps. This attack was launched from the area of Rusakovka and Novay Greblya to the north and northeast. After several days the Germans captured Vinograd and Tynovka, forced the Gniloy Tikich River, and reached Antonovka. Could you describe the role of your mechanized corps in the unfolding battle?
- We encircled the Germans and closed the pocket. They immediately threw us to the outer ring. The weather was terrible; the mud thawed during the day. I jumped down from my tank into the mud. It was easier to pull my feet out of my boots than to pull my boots out of the mud. At night the temperature dropped below freezing and the mud froze. We struggled against this mud on the external ring. We had just a few tanks left. In order to create the appearance of strength, at night we turned on our tank and truck headlights and moved forward. Our entire corps went into the defense. The Germans decided that our defenses were strongly dug in. In fact, the corps was at about 30 percent in tank strength. Combat had been so heavy that our guns were red hot. At times the bullets even melted. You fired and they plopped into the dirt a hundred meters in front of the tank. The Germans were fighting for their very lives and regardless of the situation, had nothing to lose. Some did manage to break out in small groups.
- Did German aircraft inflict significant losses on your equipment? In particular, what can you say about the Henschel Hs-129?
- Not every time, but it did happen. I don't remember the Henschel; perhaps there was such an airplane. Sometimes we were able to avoid bombs. You could see them coming at you, you know. We opened our hatches, stuck out our heads, and instructed our drivers over the intercom: "The bomb will fall in front of us". But in general there were cases when tanks were hit and set on fire. Losses from these attacks did not exceed 3-5 tanks in the battalion. It was more common for a single tank to be damaged or destroyed. We faced much greater danger from panzerfaust gunners in built-up areas. In Hungary I recall that I was so tired that I told my deputy to lead the battalion while I slept. I went to sleep right there in the fighting compartment of my Sherman. Around Beltsy they had dropped ammunition to us by parachute. We took one parachute for ourselves. I used this parachute for my pillow. The parachute was made from silk and didn't let the lice in. And I was sound asleep! Suddenly I woke up. Why? I awoke from the silence. Why the silence? It turns out that attacking aircraft had set two tanks on fire. During the march many things were piled up on the tanks: crates, tarpaulin. The battalion had halted, shut off engines, and it had become silent. And I woke up.
- Did you lock your hatches during combat in built-up areas?
- We absolutely locked our hatches from the inside. In my own experience, when we burst into Vienna, they were throwing grenades at us from the upper floors of buildings. I ordered all the tanks to be parked under the archways of buildings and bridges. From time to time I had to pull my tank out into the open to extend a whip antenna and send and receive communications from my higher commander. On one occasion, a radio operator and driver-mechanic were doing something inside their tank and left the hatch open. Someone dropped a grenade through the hatch from above. It struck the back of the radio operator and detonated. Both were killed. Thus we most certainly locked our hatches when we were in built-up areas.
- The primary defeating mechanism of HEAT (shaped-charge) ammunition, of which the panzerfaust was one type, is the high pressure in the tank, which disables the crew. If the hatches were kept slightly open, would this not provide some degree of protection? A special order was issued before our forces entered Germany.
- This is true, but just the same we kept our hatches locked. It might have been different in other units. The panzerfaust gunners most often fired at the engine compartment. If they were able to set the tank on fire, like it or not the crew had to get out. And then the Germans shot at the crew with a machine gun.
- What were the chances of survival if your tank was hit?
- My tank was hit on 19 April 1945 in Austria. A Tiger put a round straight through us. The projectile passed through the entire fighting compartment and then the engine compartment. There were three officers in the tank: I as the battalion commander, the company commander Sasha Ionov (whose own tank had already been hit), and the tank commander. Three officers, a driver-mechanic, and a radio operator. When the Tiger hit us, the driver-mechanic was killed outright. My entire left leg was wounded; to my right, Sasha Ionov suffered a traumatic amputation of his right leg. The tank commander was wounded, and below me sat the gunner, Lesha Romashkin. Both of his legs were blown off. A short time before this battle, we were sitting around at a meal and Lesha said to me, "If I lose my legs I will shoot myself. Who will need me?" He was an orphan and had no known relatives. In a strange twist of fate, this is what happened to him. We pulled Sasha out of the tank and then Lesha, and were beginning to assist in the evacuation of the others. At this moment Lesha shot himself.
In general, one or two men were always wounded or killed. It depended where the shell struck.
- Did soldiers or junior commanders receive any pocket money? Pay, monetary allowance?
- In comparison with regular (not guards) units, privates and sergeants up to senior sergeant received double pay, and officers one and one-half times normal pay in guards units. For example, my company commander received 800 rubles. When I became a battalion commander, I received either 1200 or 1500 rubles. I don't remember the exact amount. In any case, we did not receive all of our pay. It was kept in a field savings bank against a personal account. We could store money or send them to our family. We did not carry money around in our pocket. The government was smart in this regard. For what did we need money in battle?
- What could you purchase with the money you had?
- Well, for example, when we were forming up in Gorkiy, I went down to the market with my friend Kolya Averkiev. He was a good fellow, but died literally in his first battles! We were down there walking around and came upon a speculator selling rye bread. He was holding one loaf in his hands and had another two loaves in his satchel. Kolya asked him, "How much for the loaf?" He replied, "Three kosykh" (Kosaya -is a Russian slang, it means 100 rubles; therefore the speculator asked for 300 rubles - Valeri). Kolya not understanding what a "kosaya" was, pulled out three rubles and held it out. The man said, "What, are you crazy?" Kolya shot back, "What's the matter? You asked for three kosykh and I gave you three rubles!" The speculator said, "Three kosykh is three hundred rubles!" Kolya responded, "You are a pestilence! You are back here speculating and we are shedding blood for you at the front line!" As officers, we always had our personal weapons. Kolya pulled out his pistol. The man grabbed the three rubles and beat a hasty retreat.
In addition to money, once a month officers were issued a supplementary packet. It contained 200 grams of butter, a carton of biscuits, a package of cookies, and, I believe, some cheese. It happened that a few days after this incident at the market, we received our parcels. We cut up the loaf of bread, sliced the butter onto it, and smothered it in cheese. What a feast it was!
- What kind of food did you receive in your supplementary packets? Soviet or American?
- Both. Sometimes one and sometimes the other.
- Did soldiers and junior officers receive anything for being wounded? Money, food, leave, or other forms of compensation?
- No special provision was made.
- What kind of compensation was specified for the destruction of a tank, cannon, and so on? Who determined this or were there strict rules for incentives and awards? Was the entire crew rewarded for the destruction of a tank or just individual members?
- The money was given to the crew and divided equally among the crewmembers.
In Hungary, in mid-1944, at one of our meetings we decided that we would collect in a general "pot" all the money that was awarded to us for destroyed equipment, and later send this money to the families of our dead comrades. After the war, working in the archives, I ran across lists that I had personally signed regarding the transmittal of monies to the families of our friends: three thousand rubles, five thousand rubles, and so on.
In the Lake Balaton area we broke into the German rear and it turned out that we fired up a German tank column, destroying 19 tanks, 11 of which were heavy tanks. Many wheeled vehicles. Altogether we counted 29 destroyed combat vehicles. We received 1000 rubles for each destroyed AFV.
In our brigade were a large number of tank crewmen from Moscow, since our brigade had been formed in Naro-Fominsk (a small town near Moscow - Valeri), and our replacements came from the Moscow draft boards. Therefore, when after the war I went to study at the Frunze Military Academy, I tried as much as possible to meet with the families of our fallen soldiers. Of course, the conversation was sad, but it was so necessary for them because here was a person who knew how their son, father, or brother had died. Frequently I was able to recount to them the details, even the date. They recalled the day that they were notified, and how it changed their lives forever. Then they received the money. Sometimes we were able to send them not just money, but parcels containing trophies (captured items).
- So, a destroyed tank was counted to the personal score of each member of the crew.
- Who kept track of enemy losses?
- The staff, and the battalion and company commanders. The deputy commander for maintenance also kept track. In addition, we had created a group for the evacuation of damaged tanks. Don't confuse them with rear area units! This group normally consisted of 3-5 men with one recovery vehicle (usually a turretless tank - Valeri), commanded by the deputy commander for maintenance. They moved behind the combat formations, keeping track of both our and the Germans' losses and recording both.
- By what method was it determined who destroyed which tank or gun? What happened if several crews simultaneously claimed to have destroyed the same German tank?
- This did happen on occasion, though not frequently. Normally, they credited both crews and made an annotation, "jointly". It went down in the report as a single destroyed tank. The money was divided in half: 500 rubles to each crew.
- What were the actions of the crew of a tank damaged in combat?
- To save the tank, to attempt to repair it. If the crew lacked sufficient resources to repair the tank, they set up a defense around their tank. It was categorically forbidden to abandon a tank. I have already mentioned that we had a SMERSH officer in each battalion. God forbid that you abandon a tank! We had a few cases where before an attack a crewmember loosened the track on his tank. It didn't take much effort by the driver-mechanic to throw the loose track. But our SMERSH officer took note of this and rounded up the guilty parties. Of course, it was brazen cowardice!
- Could it happen that if by carelessness the crew did not tighten the track, the crew could be charged with cowardice?
- Yes, it could happen. The crew had to look after their tank. Otherwise they could simply wake up one morning in a penal battalion. Therefore it was the obligation of tank commanders and company commanders to check track tension before each battle.
- Did you ever have to fire on our own soldiers or tanks?
- Fellows, anything could happen in war. Such an occurrence took place west of Yukhnov. Our brigade had reached that location and stopped in a forest. A battle was being fought three kilometers in front of us. The Germans had captured a bridgehead across some stream and had begun to expand it. Our corps command ordered the company of Matildas from our neighboring brigade to counterattack the Germans. The Germans had no tanks; the Matildas managed to liquidate the bridgehead, and the Germans retreated across the stream. Now our Matildas were returning from the fight. A bit earlier, fearing a breakthrough by the Germans, our command had moved up and deployed an antitank artillery battalion. They deployed 300 meters in front of us and were digging in. Our artillerymen did not know that our tanks were here, or that they were foreign vehicles. Therefore, having never seen Matildas, they opened fire on them and destroyed three or four tanks. The remaining tanks quickly turned and sought cover. The battalion commander, an artilleryman, ran over to one of the destroyed tanks, looked inside, and there saw our own soldiers. One of them had a chest full of medals. The artilleryman was beside himself.
On another occasion, when 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Fronts linked up in Zvenigorodka and closed the encirclement ring around the Korsun-Shevchenkovskiy pocket, the 5th Army equipped with T-34s approached from the south and our Shermans came in from the north. Our troops on the T-34s had not been warned that there were Shermans in the area, and they shot at the tank of my battalion commander, Nikolay Nikolaevich Malyukov. He died in his tank.
- Did they punish anyone for this?
- I don't know. Perhaps they punished someone. Each case was investigated by rear-area organizations.
- How did you co-operate with the infantry during combat?
- By TOE the tank brigade had three tank battalions of 21 tanks each and a battalion of submachine gunners. A submachine gun battalion had three companies, one for each tank battalion. We had this three-battalion structure only in late 1943 and early 1944. All the rest of the time we had two tank battalions in the brigade. Our submachine gunners were like brothers to us. On the march they sat on our tanks. They kept warm there, dried their things, and slept. We drove along and then stopped somewhere. The tankers could sleep and our submachine gunners protected our tanks and us. Over the course of time many submachine gunners became members of our crews, initially as loaders and later as radio operators. We divided our trophies equally: they with us and we with them. Therefore they had an easier time of it than ordinary infantrymen.
During combat they sat on the tanks until the firing started. As soon as the Germans opened fire on our tanks, they jumped off and ran behind the tanks, frequently protected by its armor from enemy light machine gun fire.
- If it happened that the tanks were limited in maneuver and speed, did you maneuver your infantry or halt them?
- Nothing like that. We did not pay any attention to them. We maneuvered and they maneuvered themselves behind us. There were no problems. It would have been worse for them if we had been knocked out, so let them run behind us.
- Was the tank's speed limited in the attack? By what?
- Of course! We must been fire!
- How did you fire, from short halts or on the move?
- Both ways. If we fired on the move, the speed of the tank did not exceed 12 km/h. But we rarely fired on the move, only in order to incite panic in the enemy ranks. Primarily we fired from short halts. We rushed into a position, stopped for a second, fired, and moved ahead.
- What would you like to say about the German Tiger?
- It was an extremely heavy vehicle. The Sherman could never defeat a Tiger with a frontal shot. We had to force the Tiger to expose its flank. If we were defending and the Germans were attacking, we had a special tactic. Two Shermans were designated for each Tiger. The first Sherman fired at the track and broke it. For a brief space of time the heavy vehicle still moved forward on one track, which caused it to turn. At this moment the second Sherman shot it in the side, trying to hit the fuel cell. This is how we did it. One German tank was defeated by two of ours, therefore the victory was credited to both crews. There is a story about this entitled "Hunting With Borzois" in my book.
- The muzzle brake has one significant shortcoming: a cloud of dust is raised during firing from a weapon thus equipped, giving away one's position. Some artillerymen attempted to counter this, for example, by wetting down the ground in front of their cannons. What countermeasures did you employ?
- You're correct! We might have packed the ground and covered it with our tarpaulins. I don't recall any special problems.
- Were your tank sights blinded by dust, dirt, or snow?
- There were no special difficulties. Snow, of course, could blind us. But not dust. The sight on the Sherman did not protrude. On the contrary, it was recessed into the turret. Therefore it was well protected against the elements.
- Our tankers who fought on the British Churchills pointed out the weak heater in the crew compartment as a deficiency. The standard electric heater was inadequate for the conditions of the Russian winter. How was the Sherman equipped in this regard?
- The Sherman had two engines connected by a coupling joint. This was both good and bad. There were cases when one of these motors was disabled in battle. Then the coupling joint could be disengaged from the crew compartment and the tank could crawl away from the fight on one engine. On the other hand, there were powerful fans located above both engines. We used to say, "Open your mouth and the wind came out your ass!" How the hell could we get warm? There were such strong drafts of air! Perhaps there was heat coming from the engines, but I will not tell you that it was warm. When we halted, we immediately covered the engine compartment with our tarpaulin. Then it stayed warm in the tank for several hours; we slept in the tank. Not for nothing did the Americans give us fleece-lined coveralls.
- Were there norms of ammunition consumption for the tank?
- Yes there were. In the first place, we took one basic load [BK -boekomplekt -a full set of ammo. For example the IS-2's BK = 28 shells. -Valeri Potapov] with us going into battle. We took an additional BK on the outside of our tanks during long raids. When I raced into Vienna, for example, my commander personally ordered us to take two BK: the normal load inside and the second on the armor. In addition, we carried up to two cases of trophy chocolate on each tank and found additional provisions for ourselves. We were "on our own", so to speak. This meant that if we had to conduct a raid somewhere deep in the rear, we offloaded rations and in their place took ammunition. All of our wheeled supply vehicles were American 2 ?-ton Studebakers. They always brought the ammunition forward to the battalion.
There is one other thing I want to say. How did we preserve our (Soviet) ammunition? Several rounds covered by a thin layer of grease, in wooden crates. One had to sit for hours and clean this grease off the rounds. American ammunition was packed in cardboard tube containers, three rounds banded together. The rounds were shiny clean inside their protective tubes! We took them out and immediately stowed them in the tank.
- What kind of rounds did you carry in the tank?
- Armor-piercing and high explosive. There was nothing else. The ratio was approximately one-third HE and two-thirds AP.
- In general this depended on the tank, perhaps. We say that on our JS heavy tanks it was the other way around.
- You are correct. But the solid-shot on the JS was so powerful that one hit was sufficient for anything. When we went into Vienna, they gave us a battery of heavy JSU-152s, three of them [In his book Loza called them SAU-152, I specially asked him about these vehicles, he said they were based on JS chassis, therefore they were JSU-152. -Valeri Potapov]. How they held us back! On the highway we could make 70 km/h with our Shermans and the JSUs barely moved. When we got into Vienna there was an incident that I described in my book. The Germans counterattacked us with several Panthers. The Panther was a heavy tank. I ordered an JSU to move forward and engage the German tanks. "Well, take a shot!" And oh, did it shoot! I must say that the streets in Vienna were narrow, the buildings tall, and many wanted to watch this engagement between a Panther and an JSU. They remained in the street. The JSU let loose and the impact knocked the Panther backward (from the distance of 400-500 meters). Its turret separated from the hull and landed some meters away. But as a result of the shot broken glass fell from above. Vienna had many leaded-in windows and all of these fell on our heads. To this day I blame myself that I did not foresee this! We had so many injured! It was a good thing that we were wearing helmets, but our arms and shoulders were all cut up. This, my first, experience of fighting in a large city was sad indeed. We still say, "A clever man does not go into a city, but bypasses it." But in this case I had specific orders to go into the city.
- In general, was Vienna heavily destroyed?
- No, not terribly. Not in comparison with, say, Warsaw. My basic mission was to capture the center of Vienna and the bank. There we captured eighteen tons of gold, which was not considered "chump change". My men joked with me, "If only you could take just one bag!" And I responded, "Men, how many years would I break rocks for this sack?"
- How did you refuel?
- Each battalion had several fuel trucks. Before a battle the tanks had to be topped off. If we were going on a march or raid, then spare fuel cells were mounted on the tanks and we dropped them before combat. The fuel trucks went to the battalion rear and brought fuel forward to us. Not all fuel trucks were forward at the same time. As soon as one fuel truck was emptied the next was brought forward, and so on. As a fuel truck was emptied it immediately turned around and went back to brigade to fill up. In Ukraine we had to tow these fuel trucks with our tanks because of the mud. The mud was horrible. In Romania it happened that we broke into the German rear with our tanks and they cut us off from our own logistics. We made a cocktail, a mixture of gasoline and kerosene (the M4A2 Shermans were diesel-powered), in what proportions I do not recall. The tanks ran on this cocktail, but the engines overheated.
- Did you have "horseless" tankers in your unit, i.e. tankers without a tank? What did you do with them?
- Absolutely we did. Normally one-third of the total number of personnel. They did everything. They helped with maintenance, ammunition resupply, refueling, and anything that needed doing. They did it.
- Did you have camouflaged vehicles in your unit?
- There were some, but I do not recall them. We had everything. In the winter we painted our tanks white in a mandatory scheme, either with whitewash or paint.
- Was permission required for installing camouflage? Did you need someone's authorization for painting any kind of slogans on the tank, for example, "Za rodinu" (For the Motherland), and so on?
- No, no kind of permission was required. This was your choice -you want to paint, you paint. If you didn't want to paint camouflage, you didn't paint. As far as the inscriptions are concerned, I believe that they had to be approved by the political representative. It was a sort of propaganda, a political statement.
- The Germans made widespread use of camouflage. Did it help them?
- Yes, it did help them. Sometimes it was crucial to them!
- Then why did you not do it?
- We lacked the materials. We did not have a large choice of colors. There was a protective color and we painted it. It took a lot of paint to cover a tank! If we had been able to obtain other colors, then perhaps we would have camouflaged our tanks. In general, there were many other tasks at hand, like repair, refueling, and so on.
The Germans were richer that we were. They not only had camouflage but they used zimmerit on their heavy tanks.
In addition, they hung track blocks on their heavy tanks. Sometimes it was quite effective! A round struck the track block and ricocheted off.
- Did the crew receive a concussion when a round hit the tank, even if it did not penetrate the armor?
- Generally, no. It depended on where the round hit. Let's say that I was sitting in the left side of the turret and a round struck near me. I heard this hit but it did not harm me. If it struck somewhere on the hull, I might not hear it at all. This happened several times. We would come out of an engagement and inspect the tank. In several places the armor would show an impact, like a hot knife that had cut through butter. But I did not hear the round impacts. Sometimes the driver would shout, "They're shooting from the left!" But there was no overwhelming sound. Of course, if such a powerful gun as the JSU-152 hit you, you heard it! And it would take off your head along with the turret.
I want also to add that the Sherman's armor was tough. There were cases on our T-34 when a round struck and did not penetrate. But the crew was wounded because pieces of armor flew off the inside wall and struck the crewmen in the hands and eyes. This never happened on the Sherman.
- What did you consider the most dangerous opponent? A cannon? A tank? An airplane?
- They were all dangerous until the first round was fired. But in general, the antitank cannons were the most dangerous. They were very difficult to distinguish and defeat. The artillerymen dug them in so that their barrels literally were laying on the ground. You could see only several centimeters of their gun shield. The cannon fired. It was a good thing if it had a muzzle brake and dust was kicked up! But if it was winter or raining, what then?
- Were there cases when you did not see from your tank where the fire was coming from, but your SMG infantry did see? How did they guide you to the source of the fire?
- Sometimes they pounded on the turret and shouted. Sometimes they began to fire in the direction with tracer bullets or fired a signal rocket in that direction. And then, you know, when we went into the attack, the commander often looked around from the turret. None of the periscopes, even in the commander's cupola, gave us good visibility.
- How did you maintain communications with your commander and other tanks?
- By radio. The Sherman had two radio sets, HF and UHF [high frequency and ultra high frequency], of very good quality. We used the HF for communications with our higher commander, with brigade, and the UHF for communications within the company and battalion. For conversation inside the tank we used the tank intercom system. It worked great! But as soon as the tank was hit, the tankers first action was to throw off his helmet and throat microphone. If he forgot and began to jump out of the tank, he would get hung up.
Interview by: Valeri Potapov,
Transcription by: Valeri Potapov Translated by: