Note: Interview taken by Briscu Bogdan at July 12, 2007 in Vascau, Bihor county, Romania.
Let me tell you about two moments that influenced my entire life. We were on the Russian front, at Sevastopol, after a routed withdrawal in front of Russian forces. It was a great grief there. I remember that general Mociulschi greeted us ("my dear valiant men" - this is how he addressed to us) and he promised that because we managed to withdraw to the ordered rally point, we'll be sent home by plane.
We stayed camouflaged in the underground of Sevastopol. There were very deep catacombs under that city, we stayed there a few days; in one morning, being at the surface, we heard airplane engines, so everybody ran for cover. The airplanes were flying low, at sea level. We didn't know if they were Russian or German ones. Our captain, a wise man, identified the planes after looking at them with his binoculars, and he just told us They are ours!. I can't tell you how happy we were.
The day came when we were supposed to be taken home by planes, as general Mociulschi promised, but the commander told us that a group of soldiers has to stay behind, in order to keep the line so the rest of our comrades can be evacuated. He assigned a 2nd lieutenant to our unit and left us to keep the line. We were less than a platoon, a mere squad of 12 men and we were given a LMG and a lot of ammo and food, in order to resist as much as possible. German airplanes came loaded with ammo, artillery shells, food; they unloaded all that stuff and loaded the wounded. There were 10 airplanes on the runway and they were loading our unit, as the general promised. In front of each airplane were rows of soldiers, which waited to climb in. We said to ourselves: Let's go there to the planes, let's not stay behind! We assembled in order, 3 men in a row and we went to the nearest plane. In that very moment, the airplane's door opened and a German crewman came out and called us: Kammerad, komm hier! Einz, zwei, drei ... he counted 25 men, among them were we all 12 and 13 other guys which I didn't know. We went in the plane, it was fully loaded with artillery shells. We were vey keen to unload it, because the plane couldn't take off until it was unloaded. I don't know how it happened, but in that moment the Russians fired a mortar shell, which landed between the aircraft doing some damages and the pilots hurried us to take off. You see, we were lucky, because they embarked soldiers in a certain order, but with that incoming mortar shell, they just took off with us on board. We landed in Carol I village, Constanta county, Romania.
Second time, we were in the Caucasus, at Height 1800. The withdrawal order came and our commander said that from each battery a gun has to be left behind to harass the enemy in order to allow to the rest of the unit to retreat in safety. It had to stay behind 4 guns, because we were 4 batteries there. I was in the 1st Battery, our neighbor was in the 2nd Battery. Out commander said: I don't want to choose who is left behind, you choose so that everything will be OK. One comrade, 1915 contingent, said that we'd better make 4 small tickets, one for each gun and one of them to be marked "Sacrifice" and the one who'll grab that ticket to be the one who is left behind. We made the tickets, the others grabbed their tickets. I didn't want to take a ticket. At last, I took one and when I looked at it: was it possible for me not to take exactly THAT ticket? I can't tell you how I felt in those moments.
The order was to collect the ammo from the other guns and pile them up next to my own. Our commander said to me: After we leave, you'll fire a round at every 2 minutes. If the Russians fire at you, you answer with a rapid burst of 2-3 rounds trying in the same time to fire also a little bit at left and right side to give the impression the you are not alone here.
They took their equipment and went down the mountain with their horses. We were left behind. We were as good as dead. We were firing at the Russians when a comrade, 1936 contingent, suggested that we'll better retreat as well, burry the cannon's breech in order not to be found by the enemy, but we disagreed him, as we didn't want to be charged for desertion.
After a while, we heard engine noise coming from a road in the woods behind us, some 50 meters in the rear. We thought that we are finished, that these were the Russians. The engine noise came closer and after that it went silent. We were asking ourselves what is happening, when a voice just called: Helloooo, Tucra!. I was started to wonder who knows my name here in the middle of nowhere, when the same voice ordered me: Gather the cannon as fast as you can and descend in the valley and tell those from the 2nd Battery to do the same. I can't tell you how fast we gathered the cannon and came down to the car, where we waited for the others to come and after that we met on the road with the guys who went earlier with the horses, skin wet, as it was March and is was raining heavily.
I was born in Vascau, on 13 May 1920. In the war I was on the Eastern as well as on the Western front. It was a slaughter.
I was recruited in 1942, on 11 February, here at Beius, 1st Battery, 1st Mountain Artillery Battalion, 3rd Mountain Division, commanded by general Mociulschi. At the beginning I was assigned as aimer, after that as gun commander. We had 75 mm Skoda mountain guns. As instructors we use to have German officers. This German officers were wounded on the front line and were sent back to train us; they were very good specialists. We were at boot camp for about 4 months, from February until July 1942.
In July 1942 the order came that the Division has to go to the front. I remember a poem written by a comrade, Emil Cotoi from Halmagiu, a private, but I believe that he used to go to school, he was a clever guy; the poem was something like this:
July of 42
You came again to us,
But now as never
You came with sorrow.
Suddenly the order came
That we, 3rd Mountain, have to go to the Russian front...
We embarked at Beius railroad station, in cattle railcars. It was a train with 2 engines and it took us directly to Crimea. We disembarked somewhere near Kerch, after 9 days on the tracks. After we unloaded the railcars we walked to the outskirts of Kerch. We stayed there for 3 weeks. On 6 September we took position in the Sibic Valley, Caucasus, at Height 1800. We stayed there until March 1943. After we retreated from there, we stopped in the Kuban, where we stayed 3 or 4 months.
I ran there into sergeant student Avram, who was my instructor back in boot camp and I was very happy to see him. He was in the back of the front and they had everything they wanted there. He ordered a private to give me anything I wanted to eat from the storehouse, while I waited for the soup to boil. You should see how amazed were my comrades when I returned with my bread bag full of cans! They were boiling raw meat, because they found a lot of domestic animals in the area.
In Kuban we struggled against the snakes and mosquitoes. We were given some mosquito nets and one couldn't have his meal until he didn't swallow a pill given against malaria. In 1943, the celebration of the entrance of the Lord in Jerusalem coincided with the German Easter. We received presents, a lot of different kinds of food, we were happy, we were thinking that if for the German Easter they had given us so much good food, how good it will be when we'll celebrate our own Easter! We didn&'t know at the time that instead of our Easter celebration we'd be in Crimea, chased by the Russians. [In fact the 3rd Mountain Division retreated from the Kuban to Crimea in June 1943. Serg Tucra is confusing the Easter of 1943 with the Easter of 1944, as we shall see in the following paragraphs]
From Kerch to Alushta we walked for 4-5 days. What a havoc it was! [Serg. Tucra now jumps to the events in April 1944, in Crimea] From above the Russians bombed us from airplanes, on the ground were the partisans, the most dangerous creatures! Instead of bombs the Russian dropped bags full of hand grenades upon us! We actually can see the Russian guy opening the plane's door and drop hand grenades as they were flying very low. But Russian partisans, dressed as civilians, with automatic weapons, were by far the most dangerous, as they were everywhere and they were attacking us around the clock.
They usually waited for us in curves. We had a cart with 3 beautiful horses as their conductor, a guy named Condrea was from the mountains and he knew how to take care of them. In the cart was a wounded master sergeant, Ardelean, we had our orders to take him straight to the airfield so he can be transferred to a hospital back in the country. You see, the partisans were controlling with fire a certain area from that road bend and we had to make out way exactly through that particular area, as it was no possibility to do otherwise.
Condrea, seeing the Russian fire, abandoned the cart and passed on foot the dangerous area, in the dead angle of the machine-guns. Remaining alone with the cart and the wounded NCO, I took charge over the horses at a distance of about 20 meters from the dangerous area. When I was few meters from the Russians, I whipped the horses over their ears, as the gypsies do and they started to run like hell. I just closed my eyes and when I opened them we were on the other side, unscratched. Afterwards I barely managed to stop the horses from running, I went to see how master sergeant Ardelean was doing. I saw that a bullet went through the cart just 2-3 inches near his head but he was OK. He just couldn't thank me and I was thinking that if I have had a slightly different speed he would have been shot for sure.
At Alushta we shot all our horses and all the wagons and canons, without breeches, were thrown in the water. We went to some barracks for rest, as it was our Easter, but we stayed there only for a few hours, because word came to move further. At Alushta we boarded some barges and we were transported to Sevastopol. We arrived at Sevastopol Sunday morning. When we arrived there, we&'ve already lost all our weapons and materials; we had only our bread bags with us.
From Sevastopol we came in Romania after a two and a half hour flight, we landed in a village named Carol I, all 25 of us. From there we went to Casicea where we remained for a month. From there we took the train, but at Ploiesti the train stopped because now the Americans were bombing, the poor people were running over the field like crazy. From all my outfit we came back to Beius in an organized way only about 50 men, in a railcar pulled by an engine. Civilians from Beius had a lot of their relatives on the front and they gathered in great number at the railway station as they learned that we are returning in the town. The engine's mechanic started to pull the siren when we were near the old hospital from Beius.
When we wanted to disembark, everyone jumped on us asking: My husband is he coming? Were is my husband left? and I was replying: Wait, auntie, there are more others coming behind us, we are only the first who arrived, don't cry. They never came. They were dead for long now, but what I was supposed to say to them?
We entered the barracks and then we left home in July 1944, for 3 or 4 weeks. In the middle of August they called us back. I started the Western campaign right here, in Beius. We were holding the line on Bitii Hill, on the left the line was held on the Crisul Negru River and on the right it was at Rosia. Our objective: Oradea. General Mociulschi was in Cristior village and he was stopping the routed, individually or as units, for reorganization. That was as far the Germans pushed us.
When we were in our dug-outs on Bitii Hill, we heard much engine noise in a night. We to had an AT gun deployed on the road, from the 6th Battery, to stop the enemy if he came on the road. In that particular night, a civilian came to our sentry and asked to be taken to the commander, as he is the chief-gendarme from Rabagani. The sentry took him to our captain, who was informed by the gendarme from Rabagani that two hours earlier, four German tanks arrived in the village and that they are planning to attack the Romanian positions in the next morning. Our captain didn't believe him and the gendarme returned in his village. Next morning the enemy was on our neck, they gave us a powerful blow. We couldn't fire on them as our mountain troops were already routed over the open field. We retreated through the cornfields and after that through the woods, over the hills, it was Sunday, went to Soimi, then Finis, and at about 3 a.m. I just reached home, but the door was locked as all my family fled in the horse-cart with the belongings.
General Mociulschi stopped us, took us at Lazuri village, over Dealu Mare, where we received new guns, field canons 76.2 mm as our 120 mm mortars we abandoned in the Bitii dug-outs. We went then to Tinca, we fought at Cefa, Roit, Bicaciu, Husasau de Tinca, we were even at Miersig.
A big cloud was hovering over Oradea as it was being was heavily bombed. After we took Oradea, we didn't stop until Debrecen and after that at Hajduboszormeny.
At Hajduboszormeny we took up positions in the backyard of Hungarian judge, a handsome tall man. We stayed there for 4-5 days and in this time we didn't touch the food that the army gave us, we were fed by the judge's family. The judge had a young daughter, who just graduated high school, and he was afraid that the Russians would rape her. All nights the girl slept with us, the Romanian soldiers, in the cellar. One day 3 Russians raped her cousin, living across the street. We hid her under our canon; those 3 Russians were very young and dead-drunk.