In the battle for the Old Ilmen farm, only 117 men and commanders survived from the whole regiment. Now these people, exhausted by three tank attacks and an endless retreat, wandered around the hot, waterless steppe. The regiment was lucky in only one thing: the regimental banner survived. Finally, they reached the hamlet, “lost in the boundless Don steppe,” and saw with joy the surviving regimental kitchen.
Having drunk brackish water from the well, Ivan Zvyagintsev started a conversation with his friend Nikolai Streltsov about the house, the family. Suddenly revealing himself, Nicholas, a tall, prominent man, who worked before the war as an agronomist, confessed that his wife had left him, had left two young children. The former combine operator and tractor driver Zvyagintsev
While Zvyagintsev complained to Nikolai about his unhappy family life, he fell sound asleep. Waking up, he smelled the burnt porridge and heard the armor-piercer Peter Lopakhin quarrel with the cook – with him Peter was in constant confrontation because of the fresh porridge, already pretty bored. With Lopakhin, Nikolai met in battle for the collective farm “Bright Way”. Peter, a hereditary miner, was a cheerful man, he liked to play tricks on friends and sincerely believed in his man’s irresistibility.
Nicholas was oppressed by the endless retreat of Soviet troops. Chaos reigned at the front, and the Soviet army could not organize a worthy rebuff to the fascists. It was especially difficult to look into the eyes of the people who remained in the German
Having bathed in Don, friends caught crayfish, but they were not able to try it – “from the west came the familiar, groaning rumble of artillery shooting.” Soon the regiment was raised on alarm and ordered “to occupy defense at the height behind the village, at the crossing of roads,” and keep to the last.
It was a tough fight. The rest of the regiment had to be kept by enemy tanks, which tried to break through to the Don, where the crossing of the main troops took place. After two tank attacks, the altitude was bombed from the air. Nicholas heavily concussed a shell exploding nearby. Waking up and getting out from under the falling asleep of his land, Streltsov saw that the regiment had risen to attack. He tried to get out of a deep, human-sized trench, but he could not. He was covered by “a saving and long unconsciousness.”
The regiment again retreated along the road, surrounded by burning breads. Zvyagintsev was sick at the sight of the people’s wealth that was dying in the fire. In order not to fall asleep right on the move, he began in a low voice to blather the Germans with the last words. Lopakhin listened to his mutter and immediately began to mock. Now there are two friends left – Nikolai Streltsov was found wounded on the battlefield and sent to a hospital.
Soon the regiment again took up the defenses on the approaches to the crossing. The line of defense passed near the village. Breaking his cover, Lopakhin spotted a long tiled roof in the distance and heard female voices. It turned out to be a dairy farm, the inhabitants of which were preparing for evacuation. Lopakhin got milk here. For butter, he did not have time to go – the air raid began. This time the regiment did not remain without support, the soldier covered the anti-aircraft complex. One German aircraft Lopakhin knocked out of his armor-piercing gun, for which he received a glass of vodka from Lieutenant Goloschekov. The lieutenant warned that the battle was going to be difficult, and that it would be necessary to stand to the death.
Returning from the lieutenant, Lopakhin barely managed to reach his trench – another air raid began. Using the cover from the air, German tanks began to creep into the trenches, which were immediately covered by fire with regimental artillery and an anti-tank defense battery. Before noon, the soldiers repulsed “six fierce attacks.” A brief lull seemed unexpected and strange to Zvyagintsev. He missed a friend Nikolay Streltsov, believing that with such an inveterate tooth-shaker as Lopakhin, one can not seriously talk.
After a while, the Germans began artillery preparation, and a fierce fiery barrage hit the leading edge. Under such a dense fire Zvyagintsev was not long ago. The shelling lasted about half an hour, and then the German infantry, covered by tanks, moved to the trenches. Ivan was almost delighted with this visible, tangible danger. Ashamed of his recent fright, he entered the battle. Soon the regiment went on the attack. Zvyagintsev managed to run away from the trench just a few meters. Behind him, deafeningly, he fell, and he fell, distraught with terrible pain.
“Exhausted by unsuccessful attempts to seize the ferry,” in the evening the Germans ceased their attacks. The remnants of the regiment were ordered to retreat to the other bank of the Don. Lieutenant Goloshchekin was seriously wounded, and the commander was Sergeant-Major Popryschenko. On the way to the dilapidated dam, they fell under German shelling two more times. Now Lopakhin was left without friends. Next to him was only Alexander Kopytovsky, the second number of his calculation.
Lieutenant Goloshchekin died without ever crossing the Don. He was buried on the river bank. Lopakhin’s heart was heavy. He was afraid that the regiment would be sent to the rear for reorganization, and he would have to forget about the front for a long time. It seemed unfair to him, especially now that every fighter was on the account. After reflection, Lopakhin went to the dugout of the sergeant-major to ask him to be left in the active army. On the way he saw Nikolai Streltsov. Rejoicing, Peter called his friend, but he did not look back. Soon it turned out that Nikolai was deaf from concussion. After spending a little time in the hospital, he fled to the front.
Ivan Zvyagintsev woke up and saw that the battle was going on. He felt a strong pain and realized that his whole back was excised by splinters of a bomb exploding from behind. He was dragged along the ground in a raincoat. Then he felt that he was falling somewhere, hit his shoulder and again lost consciousness. Waking himself up for the second time, he saw the nurse’s face above him – she was trying to drag Ivan to the medical battalion. A small, frail girl was hard to drag a massive Zvyagintsev, but she did not abandon him. In the hospital, Ivan quarreled with the orderly who ripped off his bootlegs, and continued to swear, while the tired surgeon removed fragments from his back and legs.
Like Lopakhin, Streltsov also decided to stay at the front – not for that he escaped from the hospital to sit in the rear. Soon Kopytovsky and Nekrasov, an elderly, phlegmatic soldier, approached his friends. Nekrasov was not at all against getting into the reorganization. He planned to find a pliant widow and a little rest from the war. His plans brought Lopakhin into a rage, but Nekrasov did not quarrel, but calmly explained that he had a “trench disease”, something like sleepwalking. Waking up in the morning, he often climbed into the most unexpected places. Once I even managed to get into the oven, I decided that he had been bombed in a trench, and I started to call for help. It was from this and this illness that Nekrasov wanted to move away in the embrace of a comfortable rear widow. His sad story did not touch the angry Lopakhin. He reminded Nekrasov of his family left in Kursk, to which the fascists will get, if all the defenders of the Motherland begin to think about rest. After thinking, Nekrasov decided to stay, too. Sasha Kopytovsky did not leave his friends behind.
The four of them came to the dugout of the foreman Poprischenko. The soldiers of the regiment had already angered the sergeant-major with requests to leave them at the front. Lopakhin, he explained that the division of their staff, “all kinds of seeing and persevering,” which preserved the “battle shrine – the banner.” Such soldiers will not remain without work. The sergeant-major had already received an order from the major to “go to the Talovsky farm”, where the headquarters of the division was located. There the regiment will be replenished with fresh forces and sent to the most important sector of the front.
The regiment went to Talovsky, on the way to spend the night in a small farm. The sergeant-major did not want to bring hungry and ragged fighters to the headquarters. He tried to get food from the chairman of the local collective farm, but the storerooms were empty. Then Lopakhin decided to take advantage of his male attractiveness. He asked the chairman to settle them with some well-to-do soldier, like a woman and not older than seventy. The hostess was a burly woman of about thirty, incredibly tall. She was delighted with the low Lopakhin, and at night he went on an attack. To comrades Peter returned with a pinched eye and a bump on his forehead – a soldier turned out to be a faithful wife. Having woken up in the morning, Lopakhin discovered that the hostess was preparing breakfast for the whole regiment. It turned out that the women who remained in the farm decided not to feed the retreating soldiers, considering them traitors. Having learned from the foreman,
The regiment who had arrived at the division headquarters was met by the division commander, Colonel Marchenko. Sergeant-Major Poprischenko led 27 fighters – five of them were wounded. Having pronounced the solemn speech, the colonel accepted the regimental banner that had already passed the First World War. When the colonel knelt before a crimson cloth with a gold fringe, Lopakhin saw tears flowing down the cheeks of the sergeant-major.
After the battle for the Old Ilmen farm, only 117 fighters and commanders survived from the regiment. These unfortunate people, exhausted by endless tank attacks and retreats, wandered across the heat of the steppe. Finally they reached the hamlet and saw the surviving regimental kitchen.
Ivan Zvyagintsev talks with Nikolai Streltsov about the house and family. Nicholas says that his wife left him, leaving two children. Zvyagintsev also knows family problems. While Zvyagintsev complained to Nikolai about his troubles in the family, he fell asleep. When he woke up, he smelled the smell of burnt porridge and heard the quarrel between the cook and the armor-piercing Peter Lopakhin.
The endless retreat of Soviet troops oppressed Nicholas. It was especially difficult to face the people who remained in the territories occupied by the fascists. Nikolai did not believe that victory would be achieved in this war.
The regiment was raised on alarm. An order was issued to take up the defenses and hold on to the last. This fight was very difficult. The remnants of the regiment were held back by enemy tanks, trying to break through to the Don. After the tank attacks, air strikes began. Nikolay was in shock. Waking up, he saw that the regiment was on the attack.
The regiment again retreated. Nikolay Streltsov was sent to the hospital. The regiment took up the defense at the crossing. Lopakhin heard female voices. Next to the line of defense was a dairy farm. Lopakhin got milk there. The air raid began. The regiment was left without any support. The fighters repulsed six cruel attacks of the enemy. Then the German infantry attack began under the cover of tanks. Zvyagintsev run away from the trench just a few meters and fell stricken with wild pain.
Towards evening the attacks ceased. The remnants of the regiment began to retreat to the other bank of the Don. Lieutenant Goloshchekin was wounded and soon died. Lopakhin went to ask the sergeant-major to be left in the army, and saw Nikolai Streltsov. A friend did not respond to his call and Lopakhin found out that Nikolai had deafened after a concussion.
Zvyagintsev woke up, felt pain and saw that the battle was going on. Then he again lost consciousness and woke up already in the hospital.
The regiment headed for Talovsky. The soldiers spent the night in a small farm. The sergeant-major wanted the soldiers to come to the headquarters rested and fed. The attempt to get food from the chairman of the local collective farm failed. The storerooms were empty. Lopakhin decided to take advantage of his masculine attractiveness and asked the chairman to settle them with a non-poor soldier. The mistress was a tall thirty-year-old woman. Lopakhin tried to go on the attack, but was rejected. The rest of the women sat down, having learned that the regiment was retreating with the battle, they fed all the soldiers.
At the division headquarters, the regiment was met by Colonel Marchenko, division commander. Of the twenty-seven returned fighters, five were easily injured. After the solemn speech, the colonel accepted the regimental banner.