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Rambler's Top100


- Combat reconnaissance Print E-mail

Combat reconnaissance

- As of right now, you're under the captain's command, - said the platoon CO Vanja pointing at some artilleryman.

The captain looked our small scout platoon over with some skepticism, and started leading us towards the front. About a minute before, the battalion CO's adjutant whispered to us in passing:

- Combat reconnaissance.

Those are probably the worst words for a scout platoon to hear. The scouts are used to acting at night, in secret. Combat reconnaissance means mounting an overt attack, with no artillery support, just so that someone could pick out the German fire points while they are shooting at you.

The scout platoon can usually avoid combat reconnaissance, it's too valuable to waste like this. Unfortunately, our CO is the hapless Vanja who just couldn't get up the nerves to insist that they send an infantry platoon instead of us. On top of that, as usual, he stayed behind.

The captain leads us forward pretty well. This isn't a night advance, when you can walk to the front in more or less a straight line, but a daylight crawl when all open ground is avoided. For about half a kilometer we move parallel to the frontline along a small gulley. Then a short dash into the next gulley - this place is sniper ground, and there are new bodies every day. We finally make it to our forward trenches, then walk down the line to a small stream. We continue on through the tall grass to a small river in the middle of the no man's land.

The river's shoreline is strewn with bodies of our soldiers. For some reason, all of them look like they are from Azerbadjan. Most likely, their unit concentrated here for an attack early in the morning, but waited around too long and got cut to pieces by fire from the high riverbank on the German side. Our battalion will probably take the same route in a day or two, and so really needs to pick out the enemy firing points if the attack is to have a chance. Too bad the exercise might cost us our lives.

The place is familiar to us. We've been here several times before, in the predawn hours, looking through the dead men's belongings. But then one time a sniper's bullet hit the SMG hanging around the waste of the platoon second Klochkov. Since then, we've made a point of steering clear of this place. This time is no exception - we take the long way around, and down towards the river.

About ten meters from the shore, we sit down and the captain gives us a short speech:

- Here's the mission. On my order, force the river. The Germans open fire. I map out the firing points.

The captain takes out a pencil and a map and barks:

- Forward!

I had a clear picture of what would come next. Even though I was still only 18, it's been a month since I joined the scout platoon and I've become an experienced soldier. First, the veterans are going to stall for time. One will start tightening his belt - you can't run at the enemy with a loose belt! - another will be carefully checking his ammo, the third will pull his cap on extra tight. The new guys, seeing this, will also find some urgent business to attend to, anything to postpone the moment of truth. The captain will repeat the command with the aid of some expletives, and the platoon will start towards the river. While we're trying to get across, the Germans will fire at us with their rifles and machine guns, and for some among us this river will become a final resting place.

And so, the order came - "forward!" Without waiting around for the captain to repeat himself, I sprung up and alone ran towards the river. I saw the guys look on in surprise out of the corner of my eye - but before I could process the image I was already in the water, using all my energy to keep moving forward. The German shore, covered with thick growth, was about fifty meters away. I kept thinking that in a few seconds I'll be hit by a German bullet, say from that hill on the right. It was very hard to run. The water was up to my waist and seemed extremely dense. My greatcoat was flapping around my knees, slowing me down. But regardless, the opposite shore was getting closer and closer, the water was getting shallower and shallower, and finally I plopped down on the ground between two big tree roots without a scratch on me. I looked back and saw the guys just start to enter the water. A machine gun began barking from the hill on the right

In the evening Klochkov, who yet again somehow managed to survive, got us two flagons of alcohol from the platoon CO. Everyone got a double portion. (In our unit it was customary to give alcohol after an attack rather than before - that way the survivors got a bigger portion.) The first round was in memory of the guys who bought it down at the river. After the second round I got to thinking: "did I do the honorable thing running out first, without waiting for the others? I was absolutely sure that the Germans weren't peering down their gun sights, and so I'd probably be able to make it before they figured out what was going on. Didn't some old military oath say: 'Do not spare thyself for thy comrades'? And I sure did spare myself this time"

An hour later, the platoon CO called me in.

- The headquarters allocated us some combat decorations. I've decided to recommend you for the Military Merit medal. [A lower-tier decoration like the Distinguished Service Medal - Transl.]

- Don't bother, Vanya, - I said, still tormented with doubt. - I didn't deserve it.

Ivan looked at me thoughtfully and, evidently deciding that I'm not happy with such a lowly decoration, said:

- All right, we'll give you the Medal of Valour.

I kept turning him down.

- Look, I can't give you anything higher. They gave us just one Order, and that one's for me. Now, a medal is something you've certainly earned. The captain said that you went in first today, and led the platoon in the attack.

- All right, fine, - I said. And thought to myself "whatever happens, happens. Lets the Fate to decide."

I did never get that medal.

Translated by::
Gene Ostrovsky

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