On the 6th the Soviet Army had liberated Kiev, capital of the Ukraine and the largest Soviet city occupied by the Germans. Elsewhere in Russia the fighting remained confused as both sides sought to gain any advantage before the weather closed down much of the front for the winter.
Boris Gorbachevsky was back at the front after a short break while his unit of infantry was reformed with fresh recruits. As a junior officer he now found himself posted in his regiments command bunker, usually a relatively secure position. It was not the case this day:
7 November 1943
After regrouping and a short rest, the division again entered the front lines east of Orsha. Here the Germans were resisting fanatically, trying at whatever the cost to stop the Red Army’s offensive.
On 7 November, in honor of the national holiday, the adversary decided to surprise us with a gift of his own: he undertook a counterattack on the regiment’s position. The situation at the front became fluid, and enemy self- propelled guns with submachine gunners managed to penetrate the lines and advance into the depth of the regiment’s defenses.
A handful of soldiers under the leadership of battalion chief of staff Senior Lieutenant Kuznetsov tried to stop the enemy, but failed. The attackers quickly advanced in the direction of the regiment command post.
The recently assigned regiment commander Colonel Semen Vladimirovich was shaken, and lost control over his battalions. He turned to Commissar Gruzdev and asked:
“What shall we do?”
“What do you mean?” Ivan Iakovlevich was surprised. “We fight!”
“But we only have our personal sidearms!”
“But we also still have communications! The “God of War” [the artillery] will help us!”
No longer paying any attention to the despondent face of Epifanov, Gruzdev turned to the artillery spotters who were with us in the bunker: “Radio your commander: we need URGENT support!”
Within a few minutes, the guns began to thunder.
I unholstered my pistol and laid several grenades down next to it.The self-propelled guns were rapidly approaching; only about 250—300 meters remained to our position. But suddenly one erupted in flames — a direct hit.
The remainder divided and began to encircle us.The spotters kept passing target co-ordinates back to the artillerymen over the radio. A storm of fire blanketed the Germans, but the self-propelled guns reacted calmly, only firing occasional rounds in our direction.
However, having drawn up to the command post, they poured shell after shell into it. We hid in the bunker, relying upon its strong cover. However, “The Hut”, as Gruzdev had named the bunker with some irony, couldn’t take the punishment and collapsed. The fatal blow tossed us in every direction and crushed us under the ruins – a few men fatally, a few more were badly hurt, and others received a concussion. Both of the artillery spotters who had been assigned to us perished.
But the artillerymen didn’t need any further corrections — they had called down an impenetrable wall of fire that blocked the way forward for the Germans and eventually forced them to withdraw.
We excavated the dead out of the rubble and buried them, while the wounded were sent back to the medsanbat. I received a concussion in this unexpected tussle, and for more than a week I had trouble hearing.
Gruzdev reported to the division commander Polevik about our unhappy experiences. Epifanov was relieved of his command and returned to his previous place of service in the NKVD forces.
Contemporary footage of the liberation of Kiev: