Zoya Medvedeva (married name Smirnova), the author and principal heroine of this book, a creative documentary, fought with the famous 25th Chapayev Infantry Division. She has provided an authentic, eyewitness account of the desperate fighting in the trenches for Odessa and Sevastopol, as promised to her role model, mentor and friend Nina Onilova, a legendary machine gunner, before the latter died from her wounds in March 1942. Though half-blinded, eventually Medvedeva became a machine-gun company commander. Too modest to dwell on her own exploits, instead she writes about her former comrades-in-arms, many of whom were killed or hospitalized and some, like Medvedeva herself, had to wander across the enemy-occupied Stavropol Territory, after their release from various military hospitals, in order to break through to Soviet troops in the vicinity of Kizlyar to the south-east of Stalingrad. The excerpt cited below was extracted from Chapter IV, entitled "Breaking out of Encirclement":
"By daybreak, a sentry usually becomes less vigilant. He needs to relax after the tension of a nerve-wracking night, when each rustle, each shadow inspires fear in him and might become a harbinger of danger. The coolness of the morning forces him to shiver with the cold, so he has the urge to hide his head as deep as he can in his raised collar; he craves warmth and becomes sleepy. Whatís more, if at some point earlier he had been scolded for raising a false alarm, he is not inclined to become overly vigilant.
"Such was apparently the frame of mind of the sentry who guarded the German tank at dawn on the day we attacked it. During the night the highway was deserted, but then came the first truck, slowing down at the turn by the crossroads. It appeared to stop momentarily and continued on its way. Soon afterwards two 'German' soldiers emerged from the shelterbelt into the steppe, crunching dry branches underfoot. Initially ignoring both the tank and the sentry, the soldiers sat down to have something to eat and drink. Then one of the soldiers noticed that the sentry was very interested in their food and bottle. Swallowing hoarsely with his dry throat, the sentry took several steps to one side. The soldier observing the sentry got up, moved away a few paces, and stopped, standing with his legs spread wide apart and a submachine gun slung over his right shoulder. The sentry took a few steps forward, in the direction of the two soldiers, and then and there he stopped, stamping in one spot. Then the soldier who was standing waved at the sentry with a benefactorís gesture, calling him: 'Schnell, Kamrad!' The sentry came running. In a moment, the soldiers dragged his body, still twitching, into the nearest bushes.
"Afterwards, the two men, Volodya Zarya and Aleksey Plotnikov, set off for the tank, barefooted. ...Plotnikov had a couple of hand grenades attached to his belt, while Zarya was armed with a Schmeisser and carried a German helmet, full of water. Silently striding on the soft, dew-covered grass, the men made their way right up to the target. They listened carefully; it was quiet all around. So Plotnikov climbed onto the tank and Zarya handed him an unusual master-key, a mess tin filled with water. Then Zarya followed Plotnikov onto the tank with his submachine gun at the ready.
"Slowly, carefully, and trying to aim exactly into the groove of the closed hatch, Plotnikov began to pour the water Zarya had brought in the helmet. The little stream made a bubbling sound as it penetrated through the hatch. Those in the turret stirred and someone asked a question in German. So Plotnikovís hand shook; a little stream of water missed its target, but it made no difference.
"The silence made the click of the bolt seem loud; the cover moved and was raised.... In that instant, Plotnikov... tore with both hands into the rim of the cover, and gave it a violent pull; then and there Zarya opened up with his submachine gun. Having inserted the barrel into the black hole of the hatch, he didnít take his finger off the trigger until he used up the entire clip. Again there was silence."