This is a October 1993 interview done with Soviet soldier Vadim Mikailov

You said you were present during the German attack on 6.22.1941, what was it like and what did you experience?

Mikailov: I was serving in the 27th rifle division of the 4th Rifle Corps and in 1941 was billeted near Grodno. I had been in the army since drafted in 1939, having fought in Poland. I was very proud of being a soldier and during these times it was the only option uneducated people could aspire to do. Prior to the fascist attack we were moved to the border to guard the motherland. Division after division was moved to the western front, and rumors abounded that we were going to attack westwards; with so much material and equipment being moved up, we thought this might be true.

The morning of June 22, 1941 happened very fast. I was asleep, but startled by plane engines and loud booms nearby. I tried to go back to sleep, thinking it was one of the many war drills that we did almost every week. We would practice attacking trenches, and cities, trying to correct deficiencies that were seen against Finland. My division was put on alert and we were ordered to advance against the German attack. We were quite surprised Germany had attacked us so early, as we were told they had a very small army, and could not stand up to us, this was proven wrong.

In those early days, all I saw was German aircraft; they were everywhere attacking railyards, convoys, and troop concentrations. The Soviet air force rarely was seen as the great air fleets had been destroyed on the ground. I did see a group of our bombers going west, but never saw them return, I assume they were shot down. As we were moving up to the line, dive-bombers attacked us, and they destroyed most of our column and killed our captain. One instance I remember was our AA shot down a small bomber, and the pilots captured. They were turned over to our political officers who after interrogating them had them both shot. This felt very good, as they wrought terrible destruction on us.

I remember that we did not have to wait long to make contact with the Germans. We were set up in a defense line and had just received a large supply of new weapons. The PPSH became my new weapon of choice. A thunderous artillery barrage that caused many casualties, followed by their dive-bombers and fighters, hit us. When the infantry attacked we were overwhelmed and forced to retreat as fast as we could to survive, finally stopping at another ring of defensive positions. There were sounds of battle day and night, it never let up. I always wondered why we were retreating as we seemed to be more numerous than the Germans.

New divisions came up, again and again, and all were beaten back or destroyed. We were forbidden to retreat further, any officers retreating were shot. The amount of causalities I saw were amazing, hundreds of men wounded trying to find their way to aid stations. We were forced to retreat almost daily, our political officers would always tell us we would win tomorrow and throw the fascists back. Many men deserted our ranks, not wanting to fight; the NKVD men would always get their names and information to take back to the families. If they were found our political officers or NKVD men shot them on the spot.

Did you see any German atrocities at this time?

Mikailov: I never saw any with my own eyes, but later on in the war, there were many reports in our newspapers telling about the killing of civilians and murder of prisoners. Towns were purposely destroyed and political officers were shot on sight. I only read of German atrocities from our front newspapers.

Did you feel like you outnumbered the invaders?

Mikailov: Yes, we were told we outnumbered them by very large odds, to the point our leaders made us feel like incompetent soldiers because we could not stop the Germans. We would have several divisions ready to repulse an attack, and out of nowhere, they hit us with bombs, artillery, and tanks, smashing holes in our lines then forcing a surrender. I was lucky many times, as I was able to get out of these traps. I always stayed close to our political officers, as I knew they would have a way to make it back to our rear lines. These attacks went on all of July and August, very rarely did we get a long break, and it was only for the Germans to resupply.

I personally was in a trench and was attacked by German infantry, luckily for that day, T34’s were in our sector and the German attack was beaten back with heavy losses. I noticed a wounded German soldier who was hit in his chest laying close by our positions. I went out to help him; he was brought back to our rear lines. Immediately our officers wanted him interrogated. He refused to give any information except his name and rank, and the interpreter said he wanted water and medical care as he was in pain. I remember an officer from another unit came over and pulled out his revolver and put it in the Germans mouth, telling the interpreter the prisoner needed to talk or he will be shot. We did not have time to waste on pride. I was ordered to leave and go back to our lines, but I was given a small bottle of vodka as a reward for bringing a prisoner in.

My unit was pulled back to refresh and replace what we lost, there was rumors of a big offensive in the winter. In late November more and more divisions were brought from the east to bolster our western front. The Germans had slowed way down, and now we had many days of rest. Their air force constantly harassed us, but now we saw more of our planes in the air also. There was a feeling that we took their best shots, and now we were ready to start pushing back. We had started receiving massive amounts of supplies from our allies, tanks, trucks, food, ammunition, and clothes. Many of our factories had to be removed and rebuilt to the east, so this help kept us going.

What happened to the civilians during these retreats, did they come with you?

Mikailov: It was ordered by STAVKA that all civilians retreat with our armies, though many refused or could not. I would witness many long columns of old and young moving east, sometimes holding up our military and preventing movement. They had to be removed off the roads sometimes by threat of force so we could get through. Something strange I saw was that the enemy seemed to go out of their way to not attack these columns when they could see they were civilians. An artillery battery was trying to get through and the bombers avoided targeting them, which surprised me. They did hit them later on as they were on a bridge that was only for military traffic. They destroyed the bridge and the battery, but our engineers quickly rebuilt the bridge.

One thing I was not proud about was we were ordered to destroy everything when we did retreat, houses, farms, bridges, equipment, animals, and anyone not cooperating with us was ordered deported or shot. All along our route of retreat, I saw burning towns, and destroyed equipment. The idea was to deprive the enemy of any shelter or means of food. Water was poisoned when it could be, sanitation works were dynamited and rivers opened up to flood areas to stop the enemy. As we were doing this, many times the farmers or residents would interfere trying to keep their shelter and livestock. We needed it all for the war effort, and it had to be taken. The NKVD dealt very harshly with those who put up too much of a fight to keep property. Some paid with their lives.

What was the rest of the war like for you?

Mikailov: In December 1941 I was wounded during our counter attacks against the Germans. I was hit by a mortar piece in the arm. I was sent back to a hospital in Moscow and stayed there until March of 1942. My division was disbanded in late ‘41, but the 4th corps was reformed in April, after being almost completely destroyed. I was promoted to senior corporal, which helped my morale greatly, and I was sent up north to fight with the new reformed division. I hated it as it was very cold in the winter, and the warm season had millions of flies and mosquitos that caused great misery.

The northern front was somewhat quieter than the other fronts. We were in well prepared and defended positions. Since we were tasked with protecting our great railways to the south, the best divisions were moved north. The Germans and Finns had very weak and small units facing us. Aircraft were not seen very often, but I could tell we were getting stronger and stronger, more tanks, planes and men came to us. I stayed in the northern area for the rest of the war, being in a relatively quiet sector, we occasionally were attacked by Finnish and some SS soldiers who were not German. We learned that many men from other countries had come to fight us.

They were very anti-communist and when captured they were shot on sight as they were seen as fanatical fascists who could not be retrained. The enemy tried using very small bands of men to disrupt the rail lines. They would sneak through our lines, but we had several bands of partisans who were tasked with protecting our rear, and going into the enemy’s rear to disrupt supplies also. We often would hear wild gun battles going on behind us, which gave us some comfort knowing we had forces hidden to watch our rear. Our biggest battles though were with the weather and bugs.

What was the end of the war like?

Mikailov: We were moved south through the Baltic region after Finland came over to our side; the destruction was great as many battles were fought in this area in 44 and 45. When my unit was going through some of the towns I remember seeing the civilians being arrested by NKVD men. I later learned that when our forces were pushed out of these areas, some of the people attacked and killed Jews who did not retreat with our army. These people and any others who worked with the fascists were deported or hung as criminals. This was a common sight all along my route into Germany.

I also remember our losses were so very high, everywhere I looked in some areas, I saw destroyed tanks, vehicle’s, and graves. The Germans were giving us a very bloody nose as they defended their homes. Luckily my division was now a rear area division, tasked with occupation and security. We settled into a German town that used to be part of Poland. Most all areas we were in had been evacuated, no civilians could hardly be seen. Those who remained were terrified of us, and hid everything they could. I could not blame them, as our soldiers were taking anything they could carry.

It has been claimed that during this time the Russian Army committed great crimes against the Germans, even promoting rape as a weapon of revenge. Can you shed any light on this, or is it true?

Mikailov: Well, it is a sad chapter, and it was war. I remember hearing on our radios, our minster of propaganda. He would tell us that the fascist enemy had committed great crimes against our people and that we should repay them in turn. It was only natural to want revenge, for putting us in a war we did not start. We were allowed to take what we wanted, and anyone who opposed us was deported or worse.

I knew that women in the areas we occupied had protested and complained that they were harassed and sometimes assaulted, but this was dismissed as fascist lies meant to discredit the Red Army. Our leaders had no time to hear complaints about petty issues, it was time to enjoy our victory. I even found a girlfriend, who was a Polish girl who worked in Germany and was sent back home by the allies. Her home was destroyed so she ended up in our area.

Some small towns did not see war, so we would go in and take what we wanted, I went into a woman’s shop in one and took some nylons and dresses for my girlfriend. We were joined by some partisan fighters who were very dirty people, my sgt had to order them to bathe. Many were Jews who had been fighting the Germans since the beginning. One had a walking stick he claimed had notches for each German woman he raped.

I was afraid for my new friend as these animals harassed everyone, even Russian women who were with us were not spared their groping and insults. A captain had to be brought in to get order going. He threatened to shoot anyone who harassed our women. It stopped overnight when their leader was found dead with his throat cut. I was soon released from duty in 1946 and sent back home.

Back to Interviews