|Lieutenant Colonel I. Chermanescu - In Russia. Campaign Notes 16 September 1942 – 3 January 1943|
16 September 1942
The last detachment of the Air Engineers Regiment – the Air General Headquarters Detachment – was decided to leave for the area of operations on 16 September this year.
The departure from Dealul Spirei railroad station was at 9 A.M. There was a delay of one and a half hours because there were 59 wagons and 6 had to be removed.
I am sad because I left Marioara weeping and in despair. All officers of the regiment came to say goodbye at the station. General Celareanu, Commander Garleanu, Major Bosoanca and others were present.
I am the train commander until we reach the destination.
Eventually the train left and the departure was emotional.
On the way we started to arrange our accommodation. I stored the luggage I needed during the trip in a car compartment. It was a German 3rd class passenger car, as seen in the picture.
To gain some look and comfort I set up a radio and an electric lamp, because the car did not have such facilities.
In the evening I felt pretty bad – I caught a cold. I set up my campaign bed between the compartment’s seats, I drank a glass of wine, 2 aspirins, I dressed warmly and I went to sleep at 8 hours. We passed by the town of Focsani.
I could not fall asleep soon because all kind of thoughts were running through my head, only once in a while I could hear the laughter and jokes of the other officers in the neighbouring compartments.
17 September 942
I feel better. The medicine did good to me. Outside it is sprinkling and overcast. We are at Roman.
At lunch we had the first meal at our mess hall in a freight car. The setting up is satisfying in this place and with the available means. The lower ranks have a good meal and we take pottage from them.
In Itcani railroad station we saw a poor switchman caught between two buffers, with a squashed arm. Our medic made him a injection and he was taken to a hospital.
At 7 P.M. we arrived at Cernauti where we stayed for over two hours and we replenished our food supply for seven more days. I sent letters home. The weather is cold and we go to bed at 2200 hours. Ion – my orderly – set up my campaign bed.
18 September 1942
I woke up in the morning with backache and a terrible flu. Ion covered the window frame with a blanket in order to protect me from the draft, but in his foolishness he left the window open, covered only by the blanket. All night long I felt cold and I sneezed and it was only in the morning when I realized what he did.
I shaved, I drank a cup of tea with a lot of rum and I felt invigorated. I dressed up and I waited for the train’s arrival in Stanislaus. At 9.30 A.M. we arrived there, where we visited the station and I sent a postcard home.
The railroad station is big and has a good aspect, but it is lifeless, with few Polish civilians and German officers. I took two shots of the railroad station, as seen in the pictures.
The fields are similar to ours, with plenty of corn sown, but shrunken by the drought that affected our country as well.
Between Stanislaus and Tarnopol it is a beautiful landscape with big hills but mildly sloped, and the region is very similar with the realm of Fagaras, especially when we cross a long and tall bridge, like the one between Fagaras and Brasov.
During night time, around 2200 hours, we entered Tarnopol railroad station, which was also looking good and undamaged.
From there on we leave Poland and we enter Russia.
I feel bad again because of the flu. We put out the lamp for camouflage, because ahead of us we saw two flares, probably of the partisans.
The weather is cold. I bring in the compartment a little gas stove and I go to sleep.
19 September 1942
It’s daytime and we are in Russia. Large and rich villages, with beautiful cultivated fields. No spot is barren and there is a lot of livestock in the field. Several ruined buildings reveals the trails of war.
We stop at a station – where women and children overrun us with baskets of apples, butter and eggs. They trade like in the ancient times, only in exchange for cigarettes, matches or bread – goods we own. Some Slovakian soldiers drive them away and tell us that some days before, one of them threw a grenade between cars, pretending to trade.
The men, women and children are in a deplorable state, mostly undressed and homeless, even if the homesteads looks good from outside.
I am homesick and I speak with Marioara in my imagination. What is she doing now? If she were with me, she would take care of me to get rid of the flu!
I eat some bread crumbles made by her and I drink a little rum to gain strength.
At 1100 hours we arrive at Smerinka, the town in the northernmost corner of Transdnestra. We are informed that we have to stay here for 3 hours. Even if it is not a particularly big town, the railroad station has garage lines twice as big as in the Chitila marshalling yard.
The railroad station is destroyed and in its place it’s prepared the building of a German station. One km away there is the Romanian station, from where the trains are leaving to Odessa.
I take several officers with me and we go to visit the town. We find a Romanian settlement, with beautiful railroad station, Romanian stores and Romanian postal service.
We take advantage and send several postcards back in country. I write home, to Auras and Radovici.
Almost the entire town is destroyed and everybody is trying to fix something. I entered a drug store and I bought a small box of wax for two German marks (120 Romanian lei). At a window, some cakes were displayed with the cost of one mark each. As a sidenote I mention that in Transdnestra the only curency used is the mark issued for the occupied territory.
The soldiers at our mess hall bought 5 eggs and one bread from some children. Food is traded for bread, cigarettes and soap. A little girl came with two roasted fowls asking for five marks (300 lei) each. We did not buy from caution.
We gather at our mess hall which is improvised in the freight car. We are happy that we have plenty of food and we feel like in our contry. I am not embarrassed to present our menu: scrambled eggs with fresh herbs – my idea, cabbage stew with smoked meat and fruit. We drink a cup of tasty wine brought from (our) Alexandria. In the end I smoke a cigarette from those offered by Costica – my brother in law – and I think of my sweetheart having a smoke, longing for me.
In the afternoon we pass through Winniza station, which is nice and clean. In one side of the railway we see the town as an industrial zone because there are lots of factories.
From Tarnopol – for hundreds of kilometers – on both sides of the railway there are planted evergreen rows which protect the rail from blizzard. It is beautiful and practical, because they replace the fences made of wooden planks that can be seen on every railway.
20 September 1942
Since 5 A.M. we stay in a station because we don’t have a locomotive. We are scheduled to leave no sooner than 11. Because it is Sunday and we don’t want to loose our habbits, we wake up a bit later. I take advantage of the situation that we have to stay here several hours and I order everybody to get off the train for the roll call, then one hour of training for discipline and recovery from numbness.
It’s the fifth day of staying in the train like the lion in cage. I am missing my sweetheart ! What does she do in this very moment ? Without doubt you are praying to God for me.
Today I feel better and I try to stay in the car longer, in order not to breath the cold air from outside, so at least I arrive to our destination healthy.
It’s 17 hours and we are stopped in Minerowca station for nearly two hours now. We are moving very slowly because we lack locomotives. At every 100 km we stop for changing the locomotive and we stay for this a couple of hours.
I am bored to death, I don’t know what to do to kill the time. Wouldn’t I have the radio, I would go insane.
It started to be monotonous. We cross vast plains like the Baragan Plain and seldom we see a village or a small industrial town in the distance. In the fields large haystacks are waiting for the threshing. It’s a wonderful crop there and we eat dark bread. Back home they eat even darker bread.
21 September 1942
A new week starts, more monotonous than ever. At 6 A.M. we arrive in Snamenka station – a railroad node. We stay here until 15 hours when we depart and in the meantime other military trains catch up on us.
We hear bad news from those coming from the front. At Djnepropetrowsk station, where we are going to pass at night or tomorrow morning, it was an air bombardment pretty serious for the trains there. I do not believe anything unless I see it with my own eyes, because I found out that some are exagerating in order to pass as very informed individuals.
This day was the worst till now. It’s the sixth day of our travel and we don’t know what to do any more. I took posession of a German postcard and I try to send it home with good news… of course.
The deeper we enter the heart of Russia, the colder and stronger is the wind.
I am insanely homesick, and think that I’ve just leaved.
The thought of the evening when we have to go to bed is sickening. The setting up of the bed and its dismantling in the morning is a real annoyance. No matter how small is the bed, it must be set up bewteen the two benches of the compartment, and many times I leave Ion – the orderly – to make it while I’m watching. It is a small campaign bed that can be folded.
It’s fun to see Ion sweating – even if outside it’s cold – because he ambitions to make it all by himself. After that you should see the mounting in bed !! I climb on top of it like the children – because I have no room for undressing – I take off my clothes and I put on my picket pyjamas, the socks, the Russian jacket from Daica, the woolen night cap and over it the bonnet. It won’t take long before I turn into a veritable Eskimo. Ion packs me with the blankets and after that he lays on a dismantled bench at my feet. Think I am doing the same thing all over again for an entire week !
In the morning follows the shaving, washing, making of tea in the compartment, other annoyances. But had not even this activity exist, we would surely go insane.
Captain Manole Boris is reading fervently “Gone with the wind” in the neighboring compartment and Captain Valecu is coming to me once in a while with the backgammon table asking: “Wanna play Colonel sir?”
In various stations we speak with the locals to understand the way the Bolsheviks ruled over these ragged unfortunates. Their industry would be flourishing if not used for 20 years only for armament.
22 September 1942
At 6 A.M. I wake up and I look on the window. We are in a larger station Werchowzewo where we are halted again. We have 80 more km to Djnepropetrowsk.
I shave, wash, drink my tea and wait for the train to get on the move. Until then I read some of the books I have taken with me from home.
At 15 hours we are in Djnepropetrowsk and at a small distance we see the Dnieper, a little smaller than the Danube.
The city is formidable and industrialized, the chain of metallurgical factories starting several km before entering the city, and they spread for about 10 km. But everything is destroyed, crumbled and ruined. I saw several chimneys still smoking, probably operated by the Germans.
We stayed here no longer than 10 minutes therefor we couldn’t visit the city.
The railroad was passing through a side of the city, so we could see that every house was hit by bullets or artillery shells. In the streets we could see wrecks of tanks, cars or tramcars, even after one full year of war has passed.
There was a giant electric network spreading for hundreds of kilometers around, because here it was the largest electric plant in USSR. In some places the electricity poles and wires were dismantled by the Germans.
At the city exit we cross the Dnieper on a large bridge, like the one over the Danube, with the exception this one had on top a passageway for road vehicles. The bridge is 1800 meters long and it remained undamaged.
12 km away from the city we were halted in a shunting yard between 4 P.M. and 10 P.M. We supplied with bread for 4 more days and we visited the station’s surroundings.
In the station there was another German train of a Caucasian battalion. We were astonished to see these men in German uniform and we could not understand them because of their Kirghizian dialect. All officers were Caucasians but battalion’s commander who was German.
These were volunteers previously captured by the Germans and that offered to fight against the Bolsheviks. After a training session of several months they were sent to front. We heard that the Germans have many units of this kind, made of volunteers from different regions of Russia, and some of them have as officers Russians fled abroad during the Revolution. From other sources we heard that they are fighting very well and that the Germans have confidence in them.
This fact deepens my belief that the Germans will prevail, because those believed to be side by side with the Bolsheviks are fighting against them now.
Moreover, in Ukraine, a kind of national army is undergoing buildup, army which I saw guarding bridges, railroad stations and public order in villages.
It is to be noticed that both in cities and in villages, everywhere you see nothing but misery, beggars and rags. By now I am for 6 days in Russia and I didn’t see a man, woman or child dressed reasonable. When you see such things you are astonished and you can only wonder how could this Russian people, of so many milions, to bear so much unjustness without raising, and why do they fight so determined?! For me and for many others it is a mistery!
Coming back to the Caucasian battalion, the train stopped at the platform and disembarked the horses, that were walked in a perimeter behind the platform, because they could not keep the horses so many days in cars deprived of movement.
After the movement they embarked the horses in the cars and before dusk, the Caucasians gathered in a circle on the platform and offered us a performance of Caucasian dance.
It was done in the following way: one of them was playing the harmonica while the others were clapping their hands in the rhythm of the play. One was coming out and dancing in a different manner of the others, because each region has its own customs. In Caucasus there are 14 different regions with specific dialects that have nothing in common with the Russian language.
We enjoyed their dances, especially seeing them in German uniform, as one couldn’t believe it unless he did know what it was about from the start.
Had we more time and wasn’t the sun setting, we would have liked to show them our national dances. Some of the boys even started to practice in cars believing they would have the chance to show their skills.
23 September 1942
Today it is a full week since we left home and we are only just close to Stalino. We are moving very slowly.
At 12 A.M. we entered Tchaplino station. At the time I’m writing these lines it is 6 P.M. and there is no hope of moving on. There are two more trains ahead of us waiting to leave.
Today it was the most boring day ever. We got off the train and we went to the village behind the station. Endless misery. Barefoot and ragged women and children are coming to our trains begging for bread. We give them everything in surplus because the Romanian people is kind, but we did not see any German giving them anything. I gave a couple of sugar bars to a women holding a baby, which grasped them shaking of happiness.
Were Marioara by me, she would give everything on her seeing the poor naked children trembling around trains.
We received food for two days from the German officers’ canteen: bread, cans, butter, cigarettes, chocolate……
We remained in the station until 2 A.M. in the night, when we moved on to Stalino.
24 September 1942
At 6.30 A.M. we arrived in Postyse(?)wscki station, at a distance of 80 km from Stalino. The railway station was large but almost completely destroyed. In the photograph it can be seen the state of the once mighty water tower.
Near the station there was a little town, but this was ruined and dirty like all of the others.
We stayed here until 13 hours when we decided to visit the town.
We saw a lot of children playing in front of a house. We asked what was there and we were answered that it was a primary school and the children are in the break.
We entered to see the school.
I think that I have never seen and I will never see anywhere in Europe – but in Russia – something like this. The school was a ruin, without windows. The benches that children were sitting on were something that I can't define. The coats and caps were put on a broken plank laying skewed. There was no blackboard and no pictures on walls. The children had notebooks in front of them, without writting boards or other books. In the classroom there was a young man who was a physical training teacher in a highschool and now the director of the school, and two women with frightened and dumb faces as teachers.
When we asked why didn't the children have writing boards, the teacher told us that something like this the children didn't have since the Revolution. I don't know what to believe any more.
We attended the begining of a lesson, in which the teacher was telling a verset and the children were repeating, first all together, then individually.
Compared to what I have seen in the street until now, these children are pretty clean and with nice faces, probably only those who had clothes came to school.
Walking further in the town I have seen – inside a ruined building that was a church and now was redecorated – a theater team that was practicing for a representation for the town public or for the passing troops looking for some entertainement.
We attended the rehearsal and we saw various dances and a play we could not understand because it was in Russian.
The director of the team, once grand master at Moscow, Stalino, Rostov, a 62 years old man elevated looking but dressed in the style of the old regime, put some artist women to sing for us, women that were dressed in rags and with junky shoes, but with such a beautiful voice that would have ashamed many of the so called artists at our opera.
The director told us that all are working and performing only for food, because clothes are nowhere to be bought from.
As reward because he was a dancing teacher too, we summoned several men from the train that with a fiddler performed in front of the artists some of our national dances: hora, sarba, batuta, alunelul, tiganeasca etc, that were highly applauded by the “artist public”.
The director was particulary interested in our dances, because he wanted to add in their Russian dances elements of Romanian dances.
Eventually, after the representations and counter-representations were over, we hurried to get to our train, because it was lunch time.
At 13 hours the train left the station and at 16 hours we arrived in a shunting yard 12 km away from Stalino.
25 September 1942
All the night and this day we remained in this shunting yard because we did not have a locomotive and the railroad to Stalino was damaged by bombing.
We are all nervous and we don't know what to do.
To stay so long in a station that doesn't even have a village is terrible.
I am not angry at you, Marioara, but you did wrong by not letting me leave by plane. Today it's the 10th day of travel and we don't know wether we will arrive at destination in 5-6 days.
At daytime it started a terrible heat, especially in the car, and a swarm of flies that won't let you stay in one place.
The second night in the Adewka station came, and we don't know wether we will leave tomorrow or not.
26 September 1942
It's daytime and we are still here. I was in the station one km away and we don't have hope of leaving.
I sent captain Valecu at Stalino with a motorcycle to make reconnaissance for a new supply, because the troops have food only for 2 more days.
After the captain returned, finding that there is no known time of leaving, I decided to go further to Rostow by car.
I carried with the soldiers two mobile platforms and we disembarked the car in the middle of the railroad. I take a part of the first necessity luggage and I went first to Stalino, where I remained over night.
27 September 1942
At 6 in the morning I left Stalino to Rostow – 220 km - by car. We traveled fine for 150 km on a terrible dirt road – as everywhere in Russia, with slopes and hills. After that, the car started to choke – by one or other cause.
There wasn't a single longer travel with this car without car troubles.
We hardly reached Rostow at 17 hours, when the worse bad luck came as we saw the car dying. The driver tried to tinker it for one hour, in vain. I was going mad of rancor. Lucky for us, a motorcycle passed by and I stoped it, I put Mandita in the side car and I sent him to search for the HQ to sent a car for towing.
Hardly at 18.30 hours Major Teodorescu arrived with a car and picked me up.
Over night I slept at the Battalion, in a ruined building, without windows.
28 September 1942
A less important day. I contacted the HQ, I talked to Major Savescu about his activity until my arrival and it was established the final form of the “Order of Communications”.
I had lunch at the mess hall of Major Teodorescu from the Communication Lines Construction Battalion.
The food is received from the German stores and it is no different from the one of the lower ranks, only that for the officers it is cooked separately and we add in it everything we can find in the marketplace or the cereal stores. In the city there is almost nothing to be found, and the little that can be found it's very expensive.
I sleep in a building where the Battalion is established, building that we fit out as we can, puting planks or blankets in the windows because the wind is blowing all over the place.
Lucky I decided to come here by car earlier, since not even today did the train with the Detachment arrive.
29 September 1942
The Detachment with which I left Bucharest arrived this morning at last.
The boys disembarked and began to carry the materials. During the transport a tragedy had happened: a soldier of this Detachment, trying to climb on a tracked vehicle on the move, hooked his legs under the track, having one leg cut and another leg broken. We took him to the hospital immediately, he would live but without one leg. The poor man has 6 children.
At the HQ it's confusion. Nobody can tell clearly what he wants, and the orders are changing often.
Last night the Bolsheviks payed us a visit, seconded by another this day around 12 hours. They did their job, dropped the bombs and left, willing to destroy the few remaining buildings standing.
It is a terrible wind blowing, and a dust in the air that makes you choke. It didn't rain here for more than a month.
At 22 hours I felt the building vibrating under the wind, and the windows, gaped with wooden boards instead of glass, trembling from all the nails.
On the aspect of the city I will come back later, when I have time to visit it, because the HQ is at the outskirts.
30 September 1942
Today I feel worse than ever. I have a headache and my entire body hurts. I have a severe cold and I am afraid not to fall sick just when the work begins.
I cought the cold last night because it was a terrible cold wind. Here the wind blows all night and day. The dust clouds are so thick that two persons can't see each other.
Last night around 23 hours, after taking an aspirin and falling asleep, I heard the bombing, as our visitors arrived. I grabbed my coat and ran to the shelter, where I got sicker.
I summoned Ion and scolded him badly “Ion, this is why I have choosen you as my orderly, to look after you instead you taking care to fit out the room or even to search another one? Tomorrow I will send you to front.”
I ambitioned him to search for a room in the neighborhood. I prefer to leave the safety of the sentinels than to die sick in that house. Everybody is afraid of what had happened last year, when they were attacked by partisans in Rostov. This year the situation is different, because the front is at Stalingrad, not several km away.
During the day I contacted the Communications HQ of the Land Army and I worked at the Order of Communications.
In the evening I got medication, I had a hot tea with aspirins and I layed in bed with seven blankets over me. I will get out for nothing in the world, in case the enemy aircraft come back.
1 October 1942
During the night the aircraft came twice, but I didn't get out to go to the shelter and today I feel much better. Therefor today it is a better day, especially that Mandita (the driver) and Ion had the ambition to find a new place to stay. A small house of some poor men, but a clean house, and, most important, with a stove in the next room, so starting with tonight I will have a “real” life.
During the day I worked at the communications plan and I contacted the Chief of the German Mission at the Air HQ, Colonel Bassange, to introduce myself and to inform him on our communications capabilities.
This afternoon General Enescu Ramiro, the Chief of Air HQ, arrived by plane.
2 October 1942
Indeed, this night was the first night of “real living”. I slept in a comfortable bed and I felt like a human being.
Today I wrote to Marioara a rather comprehensive letter with different events, but afterwards I felt sorry for writing everything, because I am sure she would start whining. I've never received a single word from her long since I've left home and I feel uneasy.
During this day I spent my time with endless discussions with the German officers regarding communications and I contacted the land army regarding this.
I started to have the meals at the mess hall of the Air HQ, which is good both as aspect and service.
The bad part is that given the general feeling, I believe that the HQ will be moved in other locality, because of the bombings. We hardly had time to get used to this place!
3 October 1942
Long since I've left the country, I have never had such a happier and pleasant day like today. I have received a package from my sweetheart. I opened the package impatiently, not to see what did she send – because I'm not lacking anything, but to find some words from her.
Indeed, I have found a letter in many pages and with annotations on the envelope, and also short letters from Mimi and Jean, and another one from my dearest nephew Nicki, which talks all the day of me in the house, letter that filled me with joy.
The letters were read all day long and one more time in the evening, before going to bed. Only someone who finds himself far away from home can feel the importance of several words from country.
I am happy with everything my sweetheart tells me and the most important thing is that she is well.
Regarding the goodies what can I say, I don't know when I am ever going to finish them, because I didn't consume not even a quarter of what I brought with me from country.
This evening I had the first bath since my departure from home. How did I accomplish that? Ion brought me a large tub from the Battalion, filled it with warm water and I entered it. Had someone saw Ion washing my back, he would have told that it was the baptism of Jesus. It was far from a real bath, but for me it was a dream thing.
Downtown there is not bath room, and the HQ did not called for a sanitary train with bath.
I don't know what these poor inhabitants are doing. The water is scarce and dirty, soap is lacking, but the lice and scabs are blossoming.
When you pass by them they leave a trail of stench and unwashed.
4 October 1942
Today it is Sunday. Once an important day for me, but today it passed without importance, working like the other days.
The Chief General reproached that communications are not working. The circuits of the main connections being German, they do not depend on me, but the chief doesn't want to know, he just orders “the problem to be solved”. I am very angry about this business. I will leave tomorrow for the units close to the front to see what can be done.
5 October 1942
“The Baptism of Air”, this is how I would call this day because it's the first time I'm flying by plane.
We leave at 9 A.M. in three IAR 38 aircraft. The Chief General, the Chief of 3rd Operations Section, AA Brigade commander, a liaison officer, the German Colonel Bassenge and I, are going to Morowovskaia, 220 km from Rostov, due Stalingrad.
A most wonderful travel. Starting from today, I would make all the longer travels only by plane. We were there within one hour, and by car it would have taken us an entire day, in case we would have arrived there at all.
By the way we traveled today, I remained convinced that it is very safe to fly by plane. For the beginning we flew at the altitude of 500 meters, then we descended to 100 meters for safety against enemy aircraft. Neither now I couldn't get rid of number “13”, because the plane had No. 13.
At Morowovskaia I grew sad because the Communication Detachment of Captain Enache, assigned to the 3rd Army, was bombed pretty bad by the Russians in the airfield, two days before.
My Regiment has 3 dead and 8 wounded in the hospital. I saw their graves in the middle of the village, where the Germans built a large cemetery.
The enemy planes dropped heavy bombs, whose blast destroys everything on a radius of several tens of meters.
We arrived back safe at 16 hours in the afternoon. It would take many pages to describe the experience you have in the air and the outlook below seen like on the screen of a cinema.
In the evening I go to sleep at once and early because I am tired.
6 October 1942
A day with less important events. I couldn't go anywhere because of the work. I presented the radio network plan to the General, followed by modifications and, again, delays. I am annoyed because of these.
At the Air HQ we had as a guest General Gheorghiu, commander of the Air Fighting Group.
In the evening I took part to the conference of General Enescu R. with the chiefs of sections and we were informed on the future operations.
I was warned again that he does not want to know how, but “the communications must work”. I asked: “What can we do if the German circuits are not delivered at our request?”. “It is not my business” he said.
7 October 1942
It was discussed again the possible relocation of the General HQ, and, implicitly, of the Air HQ.
I went to Nowocercassk for reconnaissance. It is located at 30 km north east of Rostow.
It is a small town, but untouched, because the Russian did not have time to destroy it during their retreat.
The streets are intact, the buildings are standing, the locality is livelier and there is a huge cathedral that they could not destroy, even if it was mined. Once this place was the capital of the Don Cossacks, but during the Bolshevik rule it was disbanded and they focused on the growth of Rostow.
At lunch I was with the Air Minister, which had a different attitude than at the Regiment.
In the evening I had the greatest joy because I talked to Marioara at phone. We talked very little because the sound was very poor, and I was saddened to find that she was severely sick with the leg. I am eagerly waiting for a letter with explanations.
I felt asleep very late because I kept thinking, even if I was tired and had a headache.
9 October 1942
The day of 8 October passed without much importance. Working in the office, doing things only for not having anything else to do.
Today, 9 October, I had a very good day.
In the morning, unexpectedly, I got a line with Bucharest and I could talk to Marioara, which was most happy to hear my voice. This time I am pleased because I found out she was better.
By lunch I had another moment of happiness, because we got contact with the Communications Center of Tasinskaia by teleprinter. It was an outstanding performance of my technicians. The Land Army, which came here two months ago, seeing that it couldn't do anything, gathered their machines, packed them in crates and borrowed two devices from the Germans. Explanation: the Germans have a single physical circuit that, through frequency apparatus, can handle 8 telephonic and 2 telegraphic connections in the same time. Their stations are Lorentz and in order to send telegrams by their network we need the same apparatus, but we have Siemens. By modifications and experimenting different set-up of cables between the Romanian and German stations, we made it. Last evening we had already wired two high priority operative orders at a distance of 280 km. Now we are relieved of a great burden.
In order to complete the satisfaction, by evening I have received two letters by plane, one from my sweetheart and one from Auras, dated yesterday.
I finished this day with three contents, as sometimes the bad and the good things succeed.
10 October 1942
Today I have worked at several things. The communications are running smooth. I have issued the order of organization for the two communication battalions – Major Savescu and Major Teodorescu – which will start operating on 12 December 1942.
In the evening I went to “Theater” with several officers. In a big building, the tobacco manufacturers' club during the Bolshevik regime, the German command gathered opera artists that did not flee and opened an opera season.
The play was “Princess of Fire”, an operetta in three acts, in Russian. Some artists were very good, the rest of the cast being filled with young who just graduated the music academy, by the strong smell of glue at the lifting of the curtain. The opera had also ballet, with few but good artists, as the Russians are good at songs and dances. The tights were pretty good, one could wonder how did they survive undamaged. The poor director appeared in the end, dressed in a loose street suit, with the collar and the tie pretty crumpled. I forgot to mention it was “premiere”.
After the show finished, two of the artist women in the leading roles – one in her fifties I believe – were given a bunch of flowers by the director, and the main character of the operetta, in the role of “maharajah”, kissed their hands, probably according to the customs. The applause was endless and the artists were excited with their success.
During the performance, the dialogs were translated for me by Captain Manole Boris, who spoke Russian and who was standing next to me.
I forgot to mention that in the house were allowed only the officers and soldiers of the allied armies – Germans, Italians, Romanians, Slovaks etc. The entrance was also approved for the members of the theatre or for those who played in the opera.
The house was over-crowded. A ticket for the first row cost one and a half German marks, 90 Romanian lei at the normal exchange rate. Think that a bread on the black market is sold with 12-15 marks (900 lei). Such an imbalance ?!
We returned to HQ cheerful and with our minds away from the troubles.
11 October 1942
It's Sunday. In the morning around 10 o'clock we go in town, at the risk of not being found by the Chief General.
The first thing we ask for is the directions for the cathedral, because it is Sunday and we have to worship.
Eventually we find the cathedral, a huge building but almost ruined. Some arrangements were made, the window gaps were covered with planks, a stand for the altar was built, icons were hanged on walls – icons that were hidden in the time of Bolsheviks. Here and there were a votive light and some candlesticks for small candles. It could be noticed that the building was used before as cereals warehouse.
The inside was tremendous large, you could lose yourself in there. The religious service was almost over and was accomplished by two bishops and two priests.
There was a crowd of people, poor and worried, worshiping the God they were forbidden to worship for 24 years. At the doors, dozens of beggars who learned the words “dai bani” (give money), asking Romanians because they have probably learned that Romanians are more compassionate.
I have lit up two candles that I could find, I have crossed myself and left.
I passed through the market place, or bazaar as it is called here. Hundreds of people, women and children, not to mention the beggars, were selling something, or better said they were trading – an old coat, a pair of worn shoes, various junks and old clothes, that you could wonder where did they came from.
The inhabitants have nothing to eat and have no possibility to earn money, therefor they come to bazaar where everybody is selling things from their homes. There is almost no food to be found on the market, only a little vegetables, and all are expensive when referring to the official exchange rate, of 60 lei per mark.
Here are some prices: a bread 12 marks, one kilogram of tomatoes 2 marks, etc, but one kilogram of fish is 1.5 marks, and it was very common – of course small fish, because the big fish was up to 10 marks.
The city is completely ruined. The streets are large, very wide and in a parallel and perpendicular layout.
Houses and flats quite big, but now they are crumbled or destroyed by fire. In 100 houses, you can't find a single one that can be dwelled at least partially. A total and radical destruction.
On the other hand on the outskirts, in the slums there are intact houses of the workers or poor men that were not members of the Communist Party. From place to place in the street there were shell holes.
The city being very wide, had an extensive tramway network. The trams are now scattered around, in the places the fighting caught them, destroyed, in their metal skeletons like some ghosts.
The general aspect of the city is pitiful.
We stopped in front of the opera. A huge building, by luck or intentionally left intact, but plundered and with all the big windows in the front broken.
The architecture is heavy and massive, not the one you expect to find at a modern opera, because it was erected in 1937.
On the other hand, it offers an extraordinary sight of the Don River, and in front of it there is a large square similar to the “6th of June” Square.
It has two huge revolving stages. One of the stages is as big as our National Theater alone. It has staircases made of white and black marble, with long sideways corridors on tall pillars, corridors which leads to a place in the front of the building where the audience passes during break and watches the city landscape. The ceiling was at great height. The lighting devices were sophisticated. If I remember correctly, it even had a small stage for children.
The inner space was so ravaged that it was impossible to be refurbished in such a short time.
In the square in front of the opera, a Romanian military orchestra plays different national songs and marches.
A lot of people gathered, military men and civilians alike, especially German soldiers and officers, since they are fond of music.
From the Opera we left to the Don River, which is right on the outskirts of Rostow. There is the harbor, which is ruined. The existing bridge was destroyed.
The Germans built a very interesting pontoon bridge for heavy vehicles.
Parallel with this, another bridge is built by the Germans – named Marshal Antonescu – on oak pillars with tall embankment made of house rubble. This embankment makes its way right through the city.
14 October 1942
During the days of 12 and 13 of October nothing important happened, except that yesterday I got a line with Bucharest and I talked to Marioara.
Today I got a direct telephonic link with Tasinskaia, where the Air Fighting Group is located, and the ground radio network start functioning.
The reconnaissance flights and raids of our bombers, escorted by Romanian fighters, began.
Since our arrival on the theater of operations, the Romanian AA artillery claimed 14 enemy aircraft raiding our perimeter.
16 October 1942
This morning, entering the bureau of Comandor Garleanu, I found him angry with the air defense, because they do not follow his orders, then he blamed the communications for not giving him the lines fast enough and the sound is not clear everywhere. I calmed him and told him to ask the station operator the indicative of the military unit and to wait for the line without getting peevish at the phone. Not even in Bucharest, where the phone lines are automatic, everything works smooth, what about here talking at distances over 500 km with field radio equipment ?!
God forbid being a communications operator, the most difficult branch of the engineers !
At 11 hours I had a conference with 2nd Chief of Air HQ and two German officers regarding the air navigation defense.
At 17 hours I had a conference with all chiefs of sections and the Chief General regarding the present situation.
At 19 hours I received a letter from Marioara, in “1000” pages, together with letters from Traienica, Barbu and photographs from the christening of Tony.
I read all of the letters holding my breath and I was very impressed with Marioara's leg sickness, then in the evening, at bedtime, I read them again more thoroughly... I liked the photographs with the christening very much.
18 October 1942
The weather changed. It rained all day long with big blobs. A terrible mud has formed, a black and sticky one. Because of the weather the activity on the front diminished and the air force did not make any sorties for reconnaissance or bombing.
Today being Sunday, we went to church, sending the troops too. We couldn't stay in the church too long because the broken windows and of the doors pierced by shrapnel created a terrible draught.
Inside the church there was a lot of people attending the mass in Russian language. We lit up candles, crossed ourselves and left, wandering through several bazaars with junks.
There are only old and expensive items that are not very appealing. Except the very beautiful icons, you can't find anything special. I didn't buy anything because I didn't like any and I had only 40 marks on me.
Today I am pleased that following the conversations with the Germans, we received our own telephone circuit between Tasinskaia and Morowovskaia, so now we can speak with our units 350 km away without difficulties.
21 October 1942
Nothing important in the past days. After rain it started snowing for good, so that it was a pretty thick layer of snow, then rain again and eventually clear.
On 20 October I talked to Marioara on the phone and I felt more eased.
Today I have received the decree of the airforce officers' reassignments. At last my wish came true – I was appointed Commander of the Airforce Communications Regiment with decree – Lt. Col. Caliga, whom I left at HQ in my place, took advantage of the situation and took for Engineers some of the good officers. I received from my aide-de-camp a detailed report on what had happened else at the Regiment.
During these days I was troubled again by my foot wound, and I took the treatment prescribed by medic seriously, so as to be able to wear boots.
This day I made a vaccine with region specific anti-cholera serum, because there were several fatal cases.
Communications are going well, except several service interruptions at the radar stations, which were immediately fixed.
The following days I have to go to Tasinskaia to see how the communications of the Air Fighting Group were set up.
25 October 1942
Nothing important to this day, except the news that the Russians attack desperately at Don and they allegedly achieved limited breakthroughs.
I tried to leave by plane for the Air Fighting Group since two days ago, with no success. In the first day it was fog, and in the second day we could not get the engine running due to freezing. This morning I went to the airfield and, as the fog was lifting, I found the engine of the plane running for warming.
Besides the fact that I had work to do at Tasinskaia in order to settle some issues with Major Savescu, I was attracted by the news that the packages sent from Bucharest via an airforce officer arrived at a bomber group at Tasinskaia.
At 9.30 I took off and went smooth for 15 minutes, after which the plane entered a pack of clouds. We raised above them, into clear sky. It was sublime to see below the waves of the clouds moving in the sun rays like the waves of a foamy sea, and above the blue sky of a summer.
We flew like this until we were supposed to reach our destination. By meteorologist at Tasinskaia it was clear weather so we could land safely, but in that spot we discovered clouds and fog. After a moment of thinking, the pilot – a second lieutenant - dived into the clouds.
We were lucky the cloud ceiling was at 100 meters, but we could see neither a landing field nor Tasinskaia. Probably because we were navigating above the clouds by the compass, the wind deviated the course of the plane. We started searching all over the place, turning right, then left and around, so that eventually the pilot himself did not know what to do and where he was.
I saw a railroad below and I was about to make signs to the pilot to land by to ask somebody for directions.
In the same time we see the Donets and we are heading towards it. I spotted a railroad bridge across the Donets, I examined the map, identified the bridge and pointed it on map to pilot.
He understood, made the orientation, turned the aircraft to course and, after an hour of fussing about we spotted Tasinskaia airfield where we landed safe.
I had a conversation with Major Savescu, I inspected the Communications Detachments and I issued supplementary instructions.
I had lunch with my officers.
At 15 hours we took off again, and this time because it was clear sky, we traveled right on course, arriving at Rostov in one hour. I brought with me the packages that were so much wandered by plane. The joy was quite great when I found so many letters and stuff sent from country.
28 October 1942
These days were an annoyance and I was irritated.
I had a little conversation with the General regarding the service interruptions of the German circuits. I answered a bit harsh – not in my habit – but then he realized that I was right.
Today a superior officer arrived from Bucharest and he told me that the Minister is mad with what he has found at the Regiment, and he is probably angry with me. I can't understand anything, what can I do from here, the bottom of Russia ?!
Major Teodorescu sent his car to Romania, and I took advantage and I sent some unnecessary things.
I tried to speak to Bucharest, but when I got to request the home number, I was interrupted.
The actions on the front are developing slowly, I think important operations won't take place anytime soon because of the bad weather, except the Bolsheviks will try to take advantage of the weather.
I am insanely homesick, and I miss my country. My dearest Marioara, what would you say if you see me at the door one day?
I am sick of the gossip and the conceitedness that exists between the ...
30 October 1942
I wrote down in good conditions the technical instructions on the usage of communications in the operation zone. I presented them to the General, who remained to study them.
After the conversation I had with the General, his attitude changed in favor of me.
Yesterday, technician Stanescu went to Romania to bring spare parts for radio equipment, and today, after the telephonic conversation with Lt. Col. Pelegrino at Bucharest, Major Teodorescu left to clarify the issue of the unexpected inspection at the Regiment. With great difficulty I get hold of half a kilogram of caviar of Azov to send home.
I am worried because I have no news from Marioara.
Good news from the front. Our airforce attacks with success. The Bolshevik defectors come swarming in the sectors of our armies. The Caucasian soldiers are especially defecting in mass, and the local population is happy with the arrival of the Romanian troops.
The weather is wonderful, an autumn I have rarely seen before. I don't know how long it would last though.
1 November 1942
Today I make one and a half months since I am on the front, half of the official service time.
This day too I received from Marioara an envelope big as ship, with two long letters and more shortly ones, from: Auras, Nicki, Vetuta and priest Darvarescu (I didn't even expected from him).
The letters are sweet and affectionate. Such manifestations calm me
I received letters from Marioara (she hardly answered to the sixth letter), Traienica, Daica, Lala, Boscanca, Colonel Nicolescu, Major Teodorescu and 2nd Lieutenant Dinescu. I had plenty to read, the question being how am I going to reply to all of them, since I have over 300 papers to do.
2nd Lieutenant Dinescu, in other news, gives me some bad news regarding how the things are going at the Regiment and the Minister's inspections.
I got to no longer be impressed and this kind of news leaves me cold.
I was happy with the package, especially with the white bread, overalls, etc. Barbu was nice as always, and gave me liquid fuel. I will look to requite him.
This evening, between 19 – 21 hours, our enemies paid us a visit. It was the worst bombardment since my arrival here and caused several fires. At the General, all the windows shattered, and he was forced not to return at his residence. A bomb fell at 300 meters from the HQ, and another one at a close distance to my home.
As usual, I stayed calm at the HQ until the jumble ended.
This was their answer to the mayhem we caused with our airforce the previous day on the Don's front.
12 November 1942
As a consequence of the bombardment of last evening, this morning I discovered in the courtyard of my neighbor, 20 meters from my home, a 50-kg bomb unexploded and stuck in the ground. Had it set off it would have damaged also a part of my home, but since I was at HQ at that time, only Ion – the orderly – was in for it.
This evening, as usual, the buggers came again, but unfortunately for them their droppings missed again.
20 November 1942
Nothing new since the last journal entry. The communications went smooth, moreover our telegraphic devices receives the messages of the land army, because their circuits are interrupted.
Yesterday I was very pleased because I received a long letter and two packages from home, through Major Teodorescu, which returned from Bucharest. I received good looking apples and pears from my dear brother in law Barbu, a fur to be worn under the greatcoat from Bijulica and sent by my careful Ciocarlan, which equipped me with a variety of jackets and sweaters, good quality cigarettes and books for lecture from our nice neighbor.
I put the apples on the sills and when I enter the house I find an extraordinary pleasant odor.
I believe that at the moment I write this journal, at home, my letter together with the “goodies” from Russia, have arrived through Captain Valecu.
I am worried with the bad news I hear about the African front, where the Americans have landed, and today the news that the Russians have broken through the 3rd Army front and they are advancing towards Rostow ?!
Our reserves are none, or very few, but we hope for the support of the German motorized reserves. I see that everybody around here is optimistic and we are waiting impatiently to see how this unpleasant event will be solved. It’s the high time for the enemy.
Outside the weather is miserable – fog and sleet – thing that makes any action of our air force to be inconvenient and the enemy to take advantage of this situation in order to advance with the tanks, which he squanders in a manner unseen until now.
It is not excluded that this advance of theirs to end up with a defeat, by capturing the forces that entered the pocket, as it happened at Harkov. The battle rages on and we don’t know what will follow because the news are muddled.
I am optimistic, as the majority around here, because even if we will lose some of our forces, and a little ground, it’s them that will end up defeated.
21 November 1942
The critical situation of the 3rd Army was not solved and the enemy continued to advance over night. A Romanian division was surrounded and currently it is found without food and ammunition. We tried to send in supplies by planes, but it was impossible because of the fog. The German armored corps, together with a German division and the Romanian Armored Division, entered the action. We hope that tomorrow the fog will lift and we will be able to fly, and then perhaps the battle will be decided.
23 November 1942
The situation remains critical. The General Lascar Group, made of 5 divisions, is surrounded but it continues to fight. The Russians sent ambassadors for surrender. The Romanian commander replied that “the honor conduct demands to fight to the end”.
The losses in manpower and material are pretty heavy. It is not even known the shape of the front line at this moment and our troops are mixed with the enemy’s. The Romanian Armored Division, following the attack for relieving our troops, is scattered and its situation remains unclear. The German 48 Armored Corps is attacking right now, but the results are not yet known.
General Lascar informed by radio that he can hold on no longer than tomorrow, because he is out of ammunition and food.
The HQ is optimistic and hopes to sort out the things, because our encirclement can turn into a disaster for the Russians.
Our tank hunters destroyed only with blankets and Molotov cocktails 150 Russian tanks. I think that the situation will clarify, with the condition the weather will allow flights. The enemy advanced about 60 km towards Morovovskaya.
25 November 1942
The situation is still not fully clarified, but it still does not seem so grave.
The General Lascar Group is still cut. The German 48 Armored Corps made contact with the Romanian Armored Division, whose location was previously not fully known. This division destroyed 150 tanks, 2 cavalry divisions and took 1000 prisoners. The advanced of the enemy has been halted. Between all the things that happened, the worst – as it happens in all the wars – was the panic. This was launched by badly intentioned elements, and further amplified by the partisans that, in the critical moments for our armies, started to came out. The Russians in the locality were informed by their agents and you could see them passing triumphal and smiling, while others, knowing what to expect in case the Bolsheviks return, were worried.
The encircled units are supplied by planes. The German headquarters for the Romanian sector has been constituted, being intercalated with German forces and the command was taken by Marshal Manstein, the hero of Sevastopol.
We received a telegram that informed us that Captain Stanescu Valentin was wounded as his aircraft was hit by a Russian AA gun. He was evacuated to Romania. He behaved as a hero, being decorated.
30 November 1942
The situation remains critical. The Russian advance has been stopped, and in many places they were thrown back. Many of the units of which we did not know anything started to came out of encirclement. The General Lascar Group is still encircled and yet resists. There are rumors that General Lascar and General Sion committed suicide, in order not to be captured by the enemy. The same is told about General Mazarini. The Fuhrer decorated General Lascar with “Iron Cross with Oak Leaves” for his famous resistance.
I have a Communication Detachment and a meteorological subcenter in the encirclement. I kept in touch with them by radio. Their morale is pretty good. They were ordered to regroup with the German units west of Stalingrad, at Pitomnic.
The Russian losses are enormous and the ground taken does not worth such a waste in men and material. Several hundreds of tanks and almost 4 cavalry divisions were completely destroyed. The Romanian Armored Division made miracles of bravery. Had we at least 4 armored divisions, we would have dealt with the Bolsheviks in different terms.
4 December 1942
I did not write any journal entry in the last days hoping to make more accurate assertions.
The Russian offensive has been definitively stopped with heavy losses for them, which, I repeat, do not worth the several dozens of km conquered, of no strategic value.
Our group is still encircled and fights on factions that tries to break out and are supplied by air. The German-Romanian forces deliver successful counterattacks. Hundreds of new tanks and bombers arrived on the front. I think the Russians will pay dearly for their offensive. The worst part is the miserable weather that does not allow us to effectively use the air force, which terrifies the Russians.
The weather in these parts is astonishing. It changes 3-4 times a day – freezes, rains, snows or it’s clear in the same day.
Since it has been constituted a German HQ, there’s a hearsay that the Air HQ will return in country. We all pray to God to leave as soon as possible for our country where it is so good.
General Enescu will depart to Bucharest for reorganizing the air force units that remained with few effective and equipment.
6 December 1942
Today it’s Saint Nicholas. Saint with a white beard, kind and generous to all children, saint that most of the times yields reasons of joy also for the grown-ups. I know he made miracles for me when I was a child. It is not the right place to relate, but a couple of words are befit.
I was in the fourth grade and I was residing at a sister of my father. She and her husband left for the wedding of another sister, at the countryside.
I remained alone – with a puppy called Bubica – and they left us food for three days. It was close by Saint Nicholas, after the old style calendar, and the weather worsened, and it started a heavy blizzard for a whole week, so that my aunt could not return home and I and my buddy Bubica ran out of food.
In the evening of St. Nicholas we went to bed together and I was crying and telling the puppy that was heating my legs: “Dear Bubica, what can we do, cause we will starve to death if auntie does not come by tomorrow?”. I was very shy and I did not dare to ask for money or food from the neighbors or an acquaintance.
So I fell asleep with tears on my cheeks, with the blizzard blowing in windows and with hunger in my stomach.
In the morning I made the fire, I locked Bubica in the house so he could not go astray in the slums, and I went to the church to pray, as it was Saint Nicholas, and to ask him for help. Even I was only 11, the faith was deeply rooted in my soul.
Swimming through snow banks, I entered the church – at Dichiu – and prayed to Saint Nicholas full of faith.
I prayed from instinct, since at that time not all the children knew that St. Nicholas helps them and puts gifts over night in the shoes left at the door. There was nobody to put gifts for me, and to tell me the story about St. Nicholas after that.
After the ceremony ended I got out from the church and I went no further than 50 meters when I saw, on a spot of treaded snow, a silver coin of 50 bani (bancuta as it was named back then), like it was put there by someone.
I was walking with the coin in my hand and a warm feeling was running through my heart as then I had enough money to live for two more days.
In that day I and my dear Bubica had what to eat and I thought that only St. Nicholas could have put the silver coin in my path. The second day auntie came and I told her about the miracle.
This is what St. Nicholas did for me when I was a little boy. When it comes to such things, I am very much impressed, and I will never forget this story or St. Nicholas.
I was expecting today that St. Nicholas to be kind with me again and to bring me on the front – neither food, nor money – but a letter from home.
This time he made no miracle, probably because he is afraid to show up on these Bolshevik and unfaithful lands. I do not despair and I do not lose my faith because maybe St. Nicholas is hiding in some plane and he will come tomorrow, if not today, to bring something for me.
May St. Nicholas bring news of going home ? Maybe…
The weather is getting better and the heavy fog started to lift. Then we will deal with our enemies that put on airs with their victories.
The melancholy and home sickness caught us all and we are asking, every time we meet, what news and when do we leave.
St. Nicholas did not give up miracles. It’s 11 PM and the service messenger, whom I previously asked to get me a line with Bucharest, called me and put me on line with Bucharest. It was the greatest joy for me, because I spoke with Marioara, mother Lucia and my brother Ionel, who is called up.
Marioara asked me if I received 2 letters and a package sent through Captain Aftenie this morning. Here it is another miracle for tomorrow, I said, both the letters and the gift from St. Nicholas are coming. The saint traveled slowly because of the fog, and the poor saint must walk careful around here, in order not to run into a bomb.
This time I went to bed merry, without tears on my cheeks, but also without Bubica.
13 December 1942
For me this day is pretty important because … I grow older by one year. Today I make 48.
Nobody around me knows this and I’m not telling them either, what good would it be?
Had I been home, how would I celebrate this birthday, especially since it’s also the birthday of mother Lucia?
How can I be glad and cheerful when there is no one close to my heart?
I wanted to make a phone call in order to make them a surprise, but bad luck, all phone calls to Bucharest are withheld. My sweetheart, do you think of the one that is far from you but with his soul close? I am sad and uneasy because I received not a word for almost a month.
This week passed without notable events. We are all waiting feverish the return of General Enescu with the decision of staying here or leaving.
On the front, the battles are continuing in our favor. Of the General Lascar Group, part of the units managed to break out of the encirclement while others remained definitively cut off, so probably prisoners. My activity is very limited – to keep in order the existing communications, with only minor modifications.
I had a little fun too: during the week and today being Sunday, right here, in a room at HQ we had cinema. There were two beautiful shows: “Anglo-Bur War” and “Puntea suspinelor”.
During this week too, following a recommendation, I went to a known painter from which I bought 3 small paintings – landscapes. I had the opportunity to see the workshop of the poor man, in a ruined attic. Over an hour, while I stayed there to see the paintings, I froze to the bones, yet he was working there.
How much misery and misfortune did this war bring about? How many combatants, of all nationalities, while I stay in a relative comfort and write these lines, are crawling through trenches, mud, blizzard and cold? And how many of them draw their last breath, passing on the other world this very moment?
liliana-bucuresti (11 June 2010)|
Tatăl meu, colonelul Alexandru Bălaşa , a luptat în cadrul Regimentului 94 Infanterie(Orşova).A fost decorat cu ord.Mihai Viteazul cls.III pe când era locotenent. Aş vrea să ştiu dacă vă pot trimite notele sale de campanie din perioada 1941-1942 pe care le-am găsit într-un carnet foarte vechi.La ce adresă de mail ?