Hero of the Soviet Union Vasilii Yegorovich Churkin.
(From Kholm Slavy (The Hill of Glory). By G.N. Rokotov. Izdatel'stvo "Kamenyar" L'vov, 1965. Third edition with changes, 1972. Pages 87-89. The "Hill of Glory" in the city of L'vov [Lviv, Lemberg] in the Ukraine is a large war cemetery.)
A gun layer in the 1st Cannon Battery of the 177th Guards Twice Red Banner Guards Artillery Mortar Regiment of the 2nd Crimean Twice Red Banner Order of Bogdan Khmel'nitskii Soviet People's Committee of the USSR Guards Cavalry Division, Guards Corporal V.Ye. Churkin was born in 1918 in the village of Varusovo, Borisoglebsk Region, Yaroslav Oblast. Besides Vasilii, there were seven other children in the Churkin family. His father, Yegor Vasil'evich, was a red guardsman and veteran of the civil war, but he died early and Vasilii had to cut short his education in primary school in order to help his mother care for the family. In 1939 he was called to active duty in the Red Army. When the time was approaching for his release into the reserves, war broke out with Hitler's Germany. Vasilii Churkin's division was in Moldavia right on the border with Rumania.
The red horsemen delivered damaging blows to the enemy, forcing him to leave numerous forces on the southern flank of the Soviet-German front. But under the weight of superior numbers they were forced to retreat into the depths of the country. There were many battles in the path of Vasilii Churkin from the southern border to the approaches of Moscow and back to the western frontier, but he fought bravely and well. The division and all its regiments became guards units.
V. Churkin joined the party, and on his chest appeared combat medals--"For Bravery" and the order of the Patriotic War 1st class.
Here is one of the combat incidents characteristic of this veteran fighter. February, 1944. The forces of the 1st Ukrainian Front have gone on the offensive. The 1st Guards Cavalry Corps, which included the 2nd Guards Cavalry Division, seized a bridgehead on the western bank of the Styr' River near Lutsk.
The enemy was trying at all costs to push the red horsemen into the river, throwing tanks into the counterattack, self-propelled guns, and accompanying automatic riflemen. Indeed, bloody clashes flared up in the bridgehead.
At dawn on 29 February the gun for which Guards Corporal Churkin was the layer was changing its firing position. Suddenly enemy tanks appeared out of the mist and started to go around the flank into the rear of the dismounted squadrons of the 1st Cavalry Regiment that was manning the defenses in the center of the bridgehead. The situation demanded quick and decisive action on the part of the artillerymen. The gun commander, Guards Junior Sergeant Keleshev, commanded the men to prepare for battle. In just half a minute the lead enemy tank was stopped in place with a broken tread, and after a second shot it began to smoke and then exploded along with its crew.
The German tankers were at first taken aback, but when they saw that only a single gun faced them they opened a running fire on it from their main guns. This initiated an unequal duel between eight armored vehicles and one gun. An enemy shell exploded between the side plates of the gun carriage. Three artillerymen were killed outright. Gun commander Keleshev and layer Churkin were wounded, the first slightly and the second in both legs. But the gun did not fall silent. The commander carried up rounds and loaded while Vasilii, conquering great pain, aimed the gun on target and fired. The wounded layer hit the enemy over and over without missing.
The guardsmen set one more tank on fire, but themselves suffered as several enemy rounds exploded around the firing position almost simultaneously. Three more shell fragments pierced Churkin's body. Keleshev was wounded a second time. His strength failing, Vasilii laid the gun on the nearest tank and fired his last shot. The enemy vehicle halted, lowering its gun barrel almost to the ground, but after a short pause recommenced firing. The remaining six tanks began to withdraw from the fight. But Guards Sergeant Keleshev had not said his last word. Moving the unconscious gun layer aside, he loaded the gun and fired on the still unvanquished tank. It began to issue smoke. Thus, thanks to the skill and courage of the gun crew, the threat of a surprise blow by nine enemy tanks was eliminated.
The gun commander and his layer survived. After recovery they returned to their regiment. The brave artillerymen continued to batter the hated enemy, endeavoring to hasten the day of victory.
Vasilii Churkin was killed on 19 July 1944 during the liquidation of an enemy group of forces around Brody. His gun got up on a highway that for the enemy was the only escape from being surrounded. Vasilii Churkin fired until the last moment of his life and did not let the enemy through his firing position. His comrades counted 145 enemy bodies in his gun sector after the battle.
On 23 September 1944 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR awarded Guards Corporal V.Ye. Churkin the posthumous title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
Translated by Mark Conrad, 2004.