This meeting with Colonel-General Mikhail Dankovich Popkov, retired, was held on the eve of his departure for the celebration of the 70 anniversary of the Battle of Kursk.
At one time we served in the same garrison. True, in different, so to speak, incarnations: he is a member of the military council, the chief of the political department of the 28 army, whose headquarters was stationed in the beautiful Belarusian city of Grodno, I was the platoon commander of the Irkutsk-Pinsk division of its name Irkutsk-Pinskoy division Supreme Council of the RSFSR. The distance, as they say, is huge. Nevertheless, the “directing hand” of the poarma and its superior have been felt. And on the Dnepr trainings in September of 30, when political editors went in the same battle formations with us from Grodno to Kiev. And later, when preparing for a campaign in Czechoslovakia ... In a word, there was something to remember. But the general already had a ticket for the Moscow-Belgorod train in his hands, and he didn’t hide (yes, he probably couldn’t hide) that with his soul, thoughts - with his whole being was fixed on that hot summer of 1967.
On the Kursk arc, in the 28-th Guards Rifle Division, Mikhail Popkov was already fired upon by a fighter. His military biography, like that of millions of his peers, began at a young age. After graduating brilliantly from Yukhnovskaya secondary school — he was born on November 14 on 1924 in the Yukhnovsky district of the Kaluga region — Mikhail will apply to Moscow with a firm intention to go to college. It was 21 June 1941 of the year. And 22, on the way to Lobnya near Moscow, where the father and grandfather bridges the road, from the loudspeaker of the dacha village not far from Lugovaya station, hears about the attack of Hitler's Germany. His father, Daniil Filippovich, will sign up as a volunteer to the people's militia immediately after speaking on the radio of I.V. Stalin 3 July. And at the end of July, under Yelnya, he will be seriously wounded, and in the spring of 1942, when his son is in his incomplete eighteen, he will be in the 185 th rifle rifle regiment, he will still be in the Novosibirsk military hospital. Shortly after leaving the hospital in March 1943, Daniel Filippovich would die in a fierce battle under the Mga station on the Volkhov front.
The reserve regiment to which Mikhail was sent stood in the town of Kondrovo of the same Kaluga region, some 70 – 80 kilometers from the front line. So the study went, one might say, under the roar of cannonade. After a month and a half, the young man was already on the front line, in the 766 rifle shooting regiment of the Tula working regiment of the 217 rifle division of the 49 th army of the Western Front. The front line was a tiny bridgehead repulsed by the Hitlerites on the bank of the Ugra River, up to two kilometers in size and one kilometer in depth. On this spot, fired from all sides, near the village of Pavlovo, where the reinforced rifle battalion was defending, the future general accepted his first battle.
- And now, being where our battalion stood to death, fighting off several psychic attacks by the Nazis during the day, bowing to the ashes of fellow soldiers resting in a mass grave, I remember again and again with great gratitude the soldiers who drove us to the seventh sweat in the reserve regiment - says Mikhail Danilovich. - With today's shortened life expectancy for conscription, this approach seems to me to be of particular relevance. In general, when organizing combat training, everyone involved in this matter should proceed from the fact that a poorly trained soldier in battle is dangerous not only for the enemy, but for his own comrades: he will not cover himself with fire, he will be left behind in the attack, the grenade will explode in his hands crippling neighbors, but you never know what else! There is a wide field for both commanders and their deputies for work with personnel. Well, as far as educational work is concerned, with which, practically since the beginning of 1943, my entire service was connected, then in the center of it now, obviously, should be the overcoming of spirituality and nihilism in the army and navy. We must give a more decisive rebuff to the attempts to degenerate the generation that defeated fascism, including by some mass media. However, much depends on the activity of the front-line soldiers themselves, for no one knows the true truth about the war better than us.
We are sitting on the balcony (where it is cooler) of the spacious general's apartment, the owner pours strong tea in cups and, after thinking for a moment about something of his own, suddenly recites lines from “Vasily Türkine”: “... and, however, in war, the first row - to infantry ".
- Yes, in the war, and the Battle of Kursk, perhaps, is especially indicative in this regard, not everything is decided by the number of divisions, tanks, airplanes, - my interlocutor continues to reflect. - The most important factor is the morale of the one who is in the tank, on the plane, with a gun, who is standing in a trench, in a trench or walking under machine-gun and mortar-artillery fire in a chain of attackers. It’s not for the sake of a red word that the Red Star’s special correspondent who knew about the war firsthand wrote in the winter of 1943: “If you erect a monument to the greatest power in the world - the power of the people's soul - then the monument walking along the snow in a jammed hat should be sculpted bent slightly, with a duffel bag and a rifle behind the back of a Russian infantryman. " I think that under these soulful words that exalt the strength of the spirit of our soldier, each participant in the Battle of Kursk would also sign, although it took place in the summer.
As you know, our defense at Kursk was deliberate, and before the German offensive (5 July 1943 of the year), the troops of the Steppe Military District (from July 9 - the Steppe Front), which included the 28-I Guards Rifle Division, as General Popkov put it , "Dug the earth." They created defenses in the rear of the Voronezh and Central Fronts. The entire defense, starting from company strong points, was built as anti-tank. Anti-tank areas were equipped, mobile obstacle detachments were created from engineering and artillery units. The infantry, according to the general, “great” was trained in combat with tanks. In connection with the advent of the German "tigers", "panthers" and "Ferdinands" it was necessary to overcome the syndrome of tank fear. Personnel were required to be tested by armored vehicles. A tank destroyer group was created in each rifle battalion. Leaflets were issued on a large scale, explaining in a popular way how to fight with tanks, where their vulnerabilities were. The soldiers were inspired: if even German tanks pass through our trenches, do not panic - in the depths they will be met by fighters.
In addition, previously created strategic reserves were included in the composition of the Steppe Front. By the way, as it turned out later, German intelligence had only fragmentary information about the reserves located in the Kursk sector. The location of the second-echelon group of troops at a distance from the front line ensured to its command the freedom of maneuver with forces and means in the most important directions - towards Orel or Belgorod.
“Now I understand why we, during the two weeks when the German offensive began, mostly made 40 – 50 kilometer marches every day,” says Mikhail Danilovich. - The command threw us where the enemy had some success. The same thing happened with tank crews, gunners. But the infantry, of course, had a harder time: we moved in the Belgorod and Kursk steppes on our own two feet. Not a single car in the battalion was not. The army rears often lagged behind the infantry going forward, and the pot of soup was far from daily. And yet, in spite of everything, we were always in time where we were sent. It turns out that Konstantin Mikhailovich Simonov was right about the greatest power in the world ...
Before the Battle of Kursk, Mikhail Popkov managed to finish the accelerated course of the Kharkov Military-Political School, which was then in Tashkent, and serve as a commander of a rifle company. The company was commanded by senior lieutenant Yevgeny Nikulin. An experienced officer, a veteran of the division, he taught his young deputy many useful lessons related to educational work. Unfortunately, soon this brave officer died heroically. And after the institute of deputy commanders of companies (batteries) for the political department was abolished in June of the forty-third, the guards of Lieutenant Popkov were appointed Komsomol of the third battalion of the 86 rifle regiment. The percent battalion on 60 consisted of Komsomol members. Due to the fact that the recruits of 1924 – 1925, born, began to arrive at the front, the troops were noticeably younger. If in the 1942 year on the Western Front there were still equally old and young people in the companies, now they consisted mainly of young people. Of the old men remained only those who returned from hospitals.
Well, what ended the July battle on the Kursk salient, which started on July 5, is well known. Soviet troops defeated Wehrmacht 30 divisions. Particularly heavy defeats were inflicted on the Nazi tank units. Only in the oncoming battle near Prokhorovka, which took place on July 12, did they lose more than 360 tanks (including 50 tigers) and assault guns. For example, one anti-tank division under the command of Ivan Martynov (Lieutenant-General, Hero of the Soviet Union, lives in Moscow), about which General Popkov spoke, knocked down enemy tanks on the Prokhorovsky field of 14.
In general, from 20 tank and motorized divisions that took part in the battle, 7 were defeated, the rest suffered significant losses. Colonel-General Heinz Guderian, General Inspector of the Armored Forces of Germany, had to admit: “As a result of the failure of the Citadel, we suffered a decisive defeat. Armored troops, replenished with such great difficulty, due to large losses in people and equipment for a long time were disabled. Their timely restoration to conduct defensive operations on the eastern front, as well as to organize defense in the west in case of an assault that the allies threatened to land next spring, was called into question ... And there were no more calm days on the eastern front. The initiative is completely transferred to the enemy ... "
“But this does not mean at all that we have only stepped on,” General Popkov continues the story. - The enemy clung to each line, counterattacked, tried to drive wedges into our battle formations ... There were episodes that are now even terrible to remember.
This happened in August, when all three fronts - Voronezh, Central and Stepnoi - had already launched an offensive. By the decision of the command, the 28-I Guards Rifle Division was brought into battle in the area of the village of Bolkhovets, located on the western outskirts of Belgorod. The battalion, with which the guard went, Lieutenant Popkov, was to attack the positions of the Nazis on the Cretaceous Mountains early in the morning. They were a group of heavily fortified heights, the approach to which was blocked by a swamp with a kilometer wide. During the 30-minute artillery preparation battalion secretly overcame the swamp and concentrated at the foot of the heights. But then trouble struck. Our gunners and tankers in time did not transfer fire into the depth of the enemy’s defenses, and several shells hit the battalion. There were losses. The beginning of the attack had to be postponed an hour later.
Next, reader, let's take a look at what happened on the Cretaceous Mountains, through the eyes of the Komsomol himself of the third battalion of the 86 Infantry Regiment:
- An hour later we went. On the right is the seventh company, where I used to be a political officer, on the left - the eighth. I am coming with the eighth. Suddenly, her commander, Lieutenant Zavyalov, perishes. I shout: “For the Motherland! For Stalin! Forward!" There, I’ll tell you, there was some kind of emotional outburst, probably connected with both youth and the position of the battalion commissar. The attack continues. The Germans have a better position. They are in trenches. And we are racking our chests on machine-gun and machine-gun fire. A German dives from above aviation, artillery beats from the depths. But we still burst into the trench. Hand-to-hand combat begins. But in a different way it was impossible in any way, because everything was mixed up - where were their own, where were strangers. Only tears of incomprehensible shells are heard, the Russian mat, the moan of the wounded and the team "Forward!" Fought first with a gun. When the cartridges ran out, he tore the machine gun out of the hands of the murdered German. Well, the butt had to act. The Germans (at the height that our battalion stormed, was about one and a half companies) fought with frenzy to the last bullet, to the last soldier. But the battle was short-lived, about 15-20 minutes. Yes, such fights do not last long. Having mastered the trench and sending prisoners to the rear, we went to storm the second position. It also came to hand-to-hand combat. The Germans fought fiercely. But our Komsomol guard turned out to be stronger in spirit. The battalion took possession of the Chalk Mountains.
For that fight, the battalion commissar will be presented to the medal “For Courage”, which he will receive ... in 33 of the year. In the submission to the award found in the depths of the Central Archive of the Ministry of Defense, it will be written: “Comrade Popkov MD twice led the company into a melee-bayonet battle, inspiring the fighters by personal example. "
After the Battle of Kursk, he will be wounded in a battle near Kharkov and will go to the hospital for two and a half months, then he will participate in the liberation of Belarus and Poland. In 20 years, taking Berlin, will meet Victory on the Elbe, in the city of Zerbst, where the German princess Sophia Frederick Augustus Anhalt-Zerbst was born, who later became the great Russian empress Catherine II. In the post-war biography of the frontline commissar there will be only one stories of our Armed Forces military exercises using nuclear weapons on the Totsky training ground in September 1954, when, according to his confession, he first felt what an earthquake was, and the Hungarian events of 1956, and Afghanistan ... Having rewind more than 48 "calendars", he will end his military service as a colonel-general as a member of military Council - the head of the political department of the most powerful ground forces in the world. Many more medals will appear on his chest, there will be orders, he will become an honorary citizen of the city of Yukhnov. But Mikhail Danilovich esteems that award for the Chalk Mountains especially.
Now retired Colonel-General Popkov heads the editorial and publishing group of the National Association of Reserve Officers of the Armed Forces "Megapir". With his participation, together with the Council of the Military Philosophical Society, operating under the association, and the Megapir Publishing House, 65 book titles and brochures of military memorial and heroic and patriotic orientation with a total circulation of more than 170 thousand copies were prepared and published. A kind of confession of a Russian general, which shows young people an example of faithful service to the Fatherland, is the book Loyalty Forever, written by him. There are lines in it written after the author visited the Cretaceous Mountains, where once his Komsomol battalion stormed the enemy stronghold: "During the war there were other battles and battles, but I will never forget this battle."
Well, front-line memory is, as they say in a famous song, for the rest of my life.