10th of January, 1946.
Some say the British and Americans were preparing to attack us. I don’t know how that rumour started, but, with not much real information coming from 10th Army headquarters, we soldiers came to our own conclusions.
I do not believe it’s true. Since moving into this village, I have frequently crossed the railway into the British Zone and moved freely about in our little Commer truck. I have even crossed the river bridge into the American Zone and have seen for myself the supply dumps established within easy reach of our bombers should such an attack take place.
Why would our Allies attack us, in any case? Like every man in our squadron, we just want to go home after years of brutal warfare.
It is early morning and I’ve started this diary to fill in the time. There is really not much else to do, now, that everything is at peace. 3 months ago, the British tell me, some young SS boys were found hiding out in the forest. Local villagers had guided the British soldiers to their camp - sick and tired of their petty thefts. They had meekly surrendered, grateful, no doubt, it wasn’t our own soldiers who found them. They had no ammunition and few skills to live out there without supplies and a senior officer to tell them what to do.
Virtually all the villagers on our side of the railway had fled into the British Zone. A few elderly Germans remained behind, but many of the cottages still lay empty. Some were taken over by the Rifle Companies as billets, seizing any comforts left behind. Like ourselves, the Riflemen have few tasks to perform except watching soldiers of the British Army watch them.
But, we and the British get on okay. I can’t say we are the firmest of friends, but that can be put down to the language difficulty. Even we who can speak English have a problem with their accents. Apparently, many of the British come from Scotland and speak in dialects.
Our squadron are all educated men. Formally, we were all students at Rostov University and we enlisted together. In 1939 the University Council decided to form a Defence Squadron consisting of likely students. Our planes were Red Airforce cast offs, I5’s, and incapable of matching the Luftwaffe. Swiftly incorporated into the Air Force when the Germans invaded in 1941, we were given Chaikas, ‘Seagulls’, which were a delight to fly, but too slow to be of much use.
Later, we were introduced to the ‘Victory’ (Pobieda) series, a pre war type that still remains our complement today. As I write, they are all stored in the sheds and hangars about our small airfield as we have had no fuel to fly them for three months.
We were never a first line squadron. In ‘43, if memory serves, 10th Army redesignated us a ‘Light Observation Squadron.’ We were assigned to ‘quiet’ areas of the front, if such ever existed. Nevertheless, few aerial combats came our way and, to a great extent, our ‘Victories’ were hardly tested. We did harry a Junkers one day in ‘44 until it force landed in a field. It took six of us and we tried to hit the crew with our machine guns as they ran for their lives. I believe they are still running. ‘Hawk’ Bogdanovich crashed on landing and broke both his legs, so I imagine honours were evenly shared.
That was pretty much our war. Of course, we strafed German soldiers as we found them, but the Chaikas and Pobiedas lacked the firepower to do little but annoy them. We never got the cannons and rockets that adorned other squadron’s aircraft. The most one could say is, we released more capable squadrons for more important assignments.
A flight of American Thunderbolts fly over near our perimeter. They have done a lot of this, the last month or so. We are not aware of any agreement between ourselves and our Allies that forbids them flying over our Zone. Our shame is, we cannot get our Pobiedas in the air to fly over their zone. Both the RAF and the Americans frequently overfly us, every one of their squadrons, more than a match for our aircraft. I think 10th Army doesn’t want any confrontations so keep our Yaks, MiGs and La5s well out of the way. Perhaps some MiG pilot might take it into their head for a little rivalry with our Allies? Such silly games might cause a serious incident between us? Who knows? 10th Army tells us shit.
The Pobieda is a delightful plane to fly, please don’t get me wrong. It has a strong airframe and a reliable engine, easy to service in the field. It is agile, if a little heavy to control in flight. It makes a reasonable ground attack aircraft, but for its lack of harder hitting weapons. It is no dogfighter, however, and, against German and Western aircraft, it is easily outclassed in speed and all other parameters you care to name.
So, we are patrollers, only, with no border to patrol and no fuel to do it with. What we are precisely doing here in this village I have not been able to discern. 10th Army sends us vague and contrary orders - we are to patrol and observe, but we still haven’t any gas.
Let me tell you about this village? It spans both sides of the railway embankment that forms our temporary demarcation. The Allied Control Commission have yet to decide just where the border lies. A local agreement between 10th Army and the British have decided the railway should serve as the line until our betters reach an agreement. It leaves part of the village in our zone, and part in their’s.
The only road North meanders to and fro between the zones and both of us use it. Over the bridge lies the Americans with their lavish dumps and stores supplying an army slowly being withdrawn. We can drive right up to the wire and call out to their guards - proof enough, I would’ve thought, there is no sinister war brewing. The Americans are more concerned with theft, rather than an attack, for there are no anti-aircraft guns, fortifications nor regiments of tanks ready to counter attack. One gets the sense they are merely waiting to go home, as we are.
On our side, several rifle companies constitute our ‘border force.’ An officious idiot of a 10th Army staff officer serves as ‘mayor’ of our side of the village. He, and his two clerks, spend their time pinning pointless proclamations to a noticeboard outside his cottage ‘town hall’ advising a village population who have largely fled to the British side. To we soldiers, he is something of a joke and lightened the somber mood over the dark days of Winter.
Our airfield had been constructed just before the first war. A small factory made aeroplanes, using the traditional wood-working skills of the area - famous last century as a centre of the German toy industry. After the war the company had collapsed and the airfield and buildings had been used, on and off, by local sporting clubs flying gliders and small aircraft. The Luftwaffe had taken it over as a training field and put down a cement strip. We found a couple of old Jungmanns when we arrived - in poor condition, largely stripped of anything useful, and totally unflyable. These we pushed into an adjacent paddock and left to rust. We cleared all the junk out of the buildings and hangars and threw it out to join the training planes. We used the hangars for our aircraft and made ourselves comfortable in the old staff and administration buildings.
We have few complaints as to our accommodation. It is a luxury compared to some of our quarters over the last four years. We have wood stoves and plenty of firewood from the surrounding forests. We plundered some of the cottages for mattresses, bedding, cooking utensils and other items and our supply truck arrives every few days with fresh fruit and meat. This we complement with a little trading with our British counterparts. We have Scotch whisky, American cigarettes and British beer.
But we are bored rigid with the daily routine, the same stretch of territory and the faces of our comrades who are growing more irritating every day. We are all young men with a thirst for adventure, yet we cannot even take to the air for a change of scenery. If only 10th Army would give us something to do that’s remotely useful, or send us home to gather together as much of our post war life as possible. But, 10th Army keeps its own confidences. It shares no information that makes sense.
I am a major and I lead this pathetic outfit. I cannot say I command through some distinguished record. I was the oldest in our University Defence Squadron and, apparently, one of the more competent flying trainees. I was appointed to command and, when the Air Force took us over, I was given the equivalent rank. Technically, I out rank even the town ‘mayor, ‘ due to seniority. This, the boys constantly point out to him when he seeks to pester the squadron with pointless orders. But, he has rubbed shoulders with the generals so he does need to be handled diplomatically.
Lastly, let me mention our prize acquisition. It is a herd of dairy cows found wandering in the forest. Evidently, the farmer drove them in there to escape the stream of refugees passing through the area. No doubt they would’ve been slaughtered for food. The farmer had not returned to claim his herd so the cows have been added to the inventory of the squadron. It wasn’t hard finding squadron staff experienced with livestock and milking. Fresh milk is something of a rarity in the area and it has led to a booming trade with our British friends.
12th of January, 1946
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