Snapshots of War: Into The Meat Grinder Part I

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*Author’s Note: Snapshots of War will be a new category featuring narrative accounts of soldiers, sailors, and airmen from both sides at war.*

North of Tiefenort, German Democratic Republic,  10 July, 1987 (D+1)

“Comrade Major!”

Major Pavel Gurenko’s eyes shot open and he came fully awake at once. The words had been spoken softly, almost in a whisper, but they startled his already taut nerves. He looked up to see a solitary figure squatting in front of the open rear door of the infantry carrier he was in.

“What is it?” Gurenko asked quickly. “And who is out there?”

“Senior Sergeant Chilsov,” the man answered curtly. He was the NCO in charge of the battalion headquarters security detachment. “Major, you are wanted at regimental headquarters. A driver just arrived and is waiting to take you back.”

“What time is it?” Gurenko asked, suddenly worried he’d overslept.

“Zero one fifteen hours, comrade.”

Gurenko grunted. He’d left orders to be awakened at 0130 and was relieved his subordinates had not allowed him to sleep beyond then. He raised himself up off the hard bench that served as his makeshift bed for the past twenty-five minutes and stretched. After allowing his eyes a moment to adjust, he picked up his helmet, and gear off the bench on the opposite side of the carrier and climbed out into the early morning darkness.

“Lead on, sergeant.”

Gurenko followed the NCO across the soft, damp ground to a moderately sized bunker that had been hastily built from logs and earth and now served as his battalion’s headquarters. The bunker, along with four MTLB infantry carriers, and a host of tents, and other temporary structures, were located on the edge of a stand of trees. The companies, and attached units belonging to Gurenko’s motor rifle battalion were spread out a short distance away in similar surroundings. By 0400 the entire battalion would be packed up, and moving west towards the border and the battle raging somewhere on the other side.

“Wait here,” Gurenko instructed Chilsov and stepped into the bunker. Eight men were present. In the dim light given off by a trio of kerosene lamps, he looked around for the battalion chief of staff without luck. “Where is Captain Vitsin?”

The battalion communications officer looked up from the bank of radios against the far wall. “Vitsin left ten minutes ago to check on the status of the companies, Major.”

Bad luck. Gurenko bit down a curse. “Send someone out to get him back here. Tell him I’ve gone to regimental HQ and will be back soon.”

Without waiting for an acknowledgement, the major turned on his heel and walked out of the bunker to where the senior sergeant was waiting patiently. Gurenko motioned him forward and the two men walked twenty meters to the edge of the tree line where a UAZ-469 light utility vehicle sat running. Chilsov opened the passenger door for his commanding officer.

“Sergeant, make sure Captain Vitsin has the headquarters detachment  ready to move by the time I return.” Gurenko waited for and received an affirmative answer. Then climbed in, adjusted himself in the seat, and motioned for the driver, whose features he could barely make out in the darkness, to move out.

Being summoned like this did not surprise Gurenko. He was fully expecting it. It had been known for hours that the 243rd Guards Motor Rifle Regiment, his battalion’s parent regiment, would be committed to the fighting later in the day along with the rest of the 27th Guards Motor Rifle Division. He assumed the purpose for this trip to Regiment was to be briefed on the overall battle plan and the part his battalion would play in it. Gurenko also assumed the other battalion commanders were also on their way in now as well.

The role that the 27th had played so far in the 20-hour old war was minimal. While other  8th Guards Army’s divisions stormed across the border yesterday at dawn, the 27th Guards was held back, acting as a strategic reserve and quasi-operational maneuver group. The division was unbloodied, its equipment untested, and soldiers unproven. This would not remain the case for much longer, Gurenko was certain.

As the UAZ-496 turned from the rocky dirt trail to a narrow secondary road, Gurenko took a moment to consider what was happening on the other side of the border. How was the battle progressing? The fact that his battalion had not yet moved farther forward told him all he needed to know.

Earlier in the evening, Gurenko had ventured out of the trees hiding his battalion, eager to get a glimpse of the war on some level. The sounds of fighting had drifted in from the west, and the northern horizon flickered with artillery fire. The sight and sounds were mesmerizing, at least until Gurenko heard the distinct roar of jet engines moving from west to east. Unsure of whether it was friendly aircraft returning from a mission, or enemy aircraft out hunting for targets the major retreated back to the safety of the forest, and camouflage netting.

The episode, though brief, resurrected pertinent questions in Gurenko’s mind. Questions he’d been too busy in recent days to contend with. Now, they came racing back and he tried to keep them at arms-length. His effort was only semi-successful.

Gurenko’s military record was second to none. The thirty-five year old native of Minsk had been selected early to command of a motor rifle battalion in a Guards regiment. Even though he had no combat experience, Gureko was the type of officer who attracted the attention of his commanders at every step of his career. A natural leader, and wily tactician, he had the reputation of making good units excellent. After only three months at the helm of his current unit, the changes he instituted were readily evident and Gurenko’s battalion was now widely regarded as the class of the regiment.

The UAZ rumbled along the narrow, paved road for five more minutes before the driver turned off onto a tree-lined dirt road. Three hundred meters in, the vehicles stopped before two long, darkened buildings that had been annex belonging to a nearby equestrian academy. Now it served as the temporary headquarters of the 243rd Guards Motor Rifle Regiment.

Gurekno opened the door and got out. The driver came around and joined him a moment later, producing a flashlight from his pocket. “Follow me, comrade.” He flicked the light on and led Gurenko towards the smaller building. They approached a narrow doorway and the driver opened it.

The activity inside was a sharp contrast to the quiet, semi-peaceful atmosphere in the yard. This building had apparently once been a storage area for farm vehicles. Now it was a collection of map displays, radios, and staff officers going about multiple tasks. A larger, somewhat more organized version of Gurenko’s own headquarters. He scanned the room, half expecting to see his fellow battalion commanders. When he couldn’t find any of them he began looking around for Colonel Voronin, the regiment commander.

Voronin had been keeping an eye out for the younger officer as well. He caught sight of him first, standing a few meters away from the door. Without wasting a moment, Voronin broke free from the gaggle of officers he’d been speaking to and strode over.

Gurenko saw his commanding officer approaching and snapped to attention. Voronin ignored it and came up, stopping so close that the older officer’s strong tobacco-scented breath was nearly overpowering.

“Major Gurenko,” he began. “The division commander was killed in an air attack just over an hour ago. I’ve been ordered to replace him and will be leaving for the division command post in ten minutes. You,” he jabbed a finger at Gurenko, and lowered his voice. “Will be assuming command of the regiment. As you know, the division will be going on the attack at dawn. I have your fire plans, and routes of advance, and other important information ready. I’m taking much of the staff here along with me, but am leaving you my operations officer. He’s very good. Now, come with me to my quarters and I will brief you on the situation before I leave.”

4 Replies to “Snapshots of War: Into The Meat Grinder Part I”

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