The Vienna offensive operation (16 March to 15 April 1945) was a strategic offensive operation of the Third and left wing of the Second Ukrainian Fronts. Its purpose was to complete the defeat of the German forces in the western portion of Hungary and the liberation of Vienna, Austria’s capital.
The plan devised by Stavka was to conduct the main attack with forces of the right wing of the Third Ukrainian Front (4th and 9th Guards Armies) and the supporting attack with forces of the left wing of Second Ukrainian Front (46th Army and 2d Guards Mechanized Corps) in the general direction of Vienna.
The shock group of the Third Ukrainian Front consisted of 18 rifle divisions, 3,900 guns and mortars, and 197 tanks and self-propelled guns. More than 800 aircraft of the 17th Air Army were in support of this force. The shock group of the Second Ukrainian Front consisted of 12 rifle divisions, 2,686 guns and mortars, and 165 tanks and self-propelled guns.
The shock group of the Third Ukrainian Front (4th and 9th Guards Armies) launched their offensive on 16 March. Having broken through the enemy’s defenses north of Szekesfehervar, this force began to move forward in a western and southwestern direction. The enemy was offering stubborn resistance. On 19 March, the 6th Guards Tank Army, to which my unit belonged, was introduced into the fight.
On 30 March, mobile formations of the right wing of the Third Ukrainian Front crossed the Austrian border. Having seized the towns of Sopron and Wiener-Neustadt between 1 and 4 April, the front’s forces had reached the approaches to Vienna. To crush the enemy’s fierce resistance, the Soviet command decided to bypass the city with forces of the Third Ukrainian Front from the south and with forces of the Second Ukrainian Front from the north. By n April, the front line had reached the near approaches to the Austrian capital. Fighting had begun for the city itself.
By the conclusion of 13 April, Vienna had been swept clean of enemy forces.
Tanks are not made for cities! Their combat capabilities are sharply reduced there: maneuverability is limited; engagement ranges are, for the most part, extremely close; without adequate infantry support, these combat vehicles can be relatively easily destroyed by enemy antitank gunners from close ranges and from concealed positions. Tank units strive to bypass cities. There were, however, occasions when the order firmly stated, “Go in!”
Early April 1945. Formations of the 6th Guards Army had seized the cities of Sopron and Sombatkhey in northwest Hungary. Vienna was about sixty kilometers away. We had to interfere with the Germans’ efforts to mine and destroy historical monuments and bridges, to move industrial equipment and cultural treasures out of Austria’s capital. The army commander, Colonel-General A. G. Kravchenko, made the decision to send a detachment to Vienna. This detachment consisted of the 1st Tank Battalion, 46th Guards Tank Brigade (eighteen Shermans), three SAU-152 guns [Samokhodno-artilleriyskaya ustanovka, self-propelled gun, of 152-mm, or 6-inch, bore diameter], and a company of airborne troops—eighty men from the 1st Airborne Battalion of the 304th Airborne Regiment, commanded by Guards Lieutenant Nikolay Georgievich Petukhov. The detachment was ordered to function as a raiding detachment in the enemy’s rear area, hurriedly reach Vienna, penetrate into the city center from the south, and seize key objectives: the parliament building, art history museum, opera house, Belvedere Palace, and Academy of Sciences. We were to hold the captured buildings and surrounding blocks until the arrival of the main body of the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps. The crews were briefed that they would be operating in the enemy’s backyard for twenty-four hours, possibly even longer.
The army commander cleverly included in the detachment the high maneuverability and firepower of tanks and self-propelled guns with the practiced ability of airborne troops to fight fierce and prolonged battles in the enemy’s rear. It was ever so strictly ordered: “Except in the most extreme case, do not become engaged in combat on the way to the Austrian capital!”
We began our careful preparation for this unusual and, we understood, difficult raid on the evening of 8 April. Two crates of captured chocolate (one could live several days on them) were placed on each Sherman and, more important, the tanks and self-propelled guns were loaded with two norms of ammunition.
The preparations and concerns took two hours. Everything was ready for the departure! The crews and paratroopers slept. How many hours would they have to combat the enemy without sleep or rest? No one knew.
Morning, 9 April. A thick fog blanketed the earth. The infantry at the forward edge did their uneasy work—they penetrated the enemy’s defense. We received the signal, “90″ (“Tanks, move out!”).
As the detachment commander, I shared a single thought and emotion with each tanker—get to Vienna quickly. Two circumstances dictated such operations. First, the objectives designated for capture were located a significant distance from the front line. Their defense might still not be well organized. Second, the Germans were unlikely to conceive of the idea that the Russian command would take this unbelievably risky step—inserting tanks and infantry into such a large metropolitan area.
The battalion column approached the southern outskirts of Vienna, the area of Favoriten. From here lay the shortest path to the center of the Austrian capital. An antitank gun fired from behind an earthen wall dating from the Middle Ages, setting one Emcha ablaze. Our hope for surprise on this axis had vanished. Î ordered the unit to withdraw to the northern outskirts of Erla. The crews and paratroopers quickly ate their rations. I called a conference of the company commanders, and we discussed the developing situation. All the officers agreed: execute a maneuver, try our military luck at another spot. This was a normal course of action in such circumstances. But where should we make this effort?
The southeastern sector of Vienna had several less dense built-up areas near the Danube canal. Honestly speaking, however, we did not have full confidence that the approach of Russian tanks to the city was not known here also. That is, on the new axis (if we went that way), we might not be able to achieve the necessary security for movement. One thing was sure. If we continued on our present course, we would suffer more losses.
We studied the layout of the southwestern sector of the Austrian capital. We were looking for a route through Meydling to the city center. There were substantial obstacles—hilly terrain covered by a forest and a winding road. The enemy would not need substantial forces to delay us. We decided upon a variant— bypass Vienna from the southwest and break into the city in the sector of the Hutteldorf-Linz highway.
Austria’s main highways were in excellent condition. The fires of war had not yet touched them. They were lined with tall, leafy trees. Their interarching green borders camouflaged the detachment well from the most dangerous threat in this situation — enemy aviation.
Darkness was approaching when the battalion reached the bridge west of Hutteldorf. Barricades blocked the streets and approaches to the bridge. Antitank fire struck the tank of Guards Senior Lieutenant Grigoriy Danil’chenko, commander of the 1st Tank Company. We were forced to withdraw a bit. We maneuvered to the right and reached Hakking. Our mission was growing more difficult as time passed! Here a solid fortress wall of some length blocked our path. We could not go around it. Time was slipping away. We had to ram it with a tank. Guards Sergeant Nikolay Oseledkin, a driver-mechanic, executed this task masterfully. First he made a small breach. With several strikes of the tank’s bow, he enlarged the breach until a Sherman could drive through it. The guards tankers christened this breach the “triumphal arch.”
Tanks with paratroopers clinging to them hurried along the railroad embankment toward the western station. The city was going about its normal daily life—buses were plying the streets, trolley cars were clanging, and the Viennese people were scurrying about their business. Traffic policemen signaled our column forward without delay at three intersections. But this atmosphere did not last long. Soon the situation changed radically. They recognized us. One after the other, the canal bridges on our battalion’s route of march went up in smoke. There were a lot of them.
Each Emcha commander had a map of the city. This permitted the detachment to continue closing on our designated objectives along multiple routes.
At 2300 on 9 April, I reported to the brigade commander by radio: “We have reached the center of Vienna!” And so the first part of our combat mission was accomplished. The second—no less difficult—was to hold the captured area until the arrival of our own forces.
The principal concern of a commander in such situations is the organization in the briefest time of a defense and, in particular, its most important element—a system of fire. The tankers and paratroopers were arrayed so that each street, intersection, and passageway was under our constant observation. If an enemy appeared, he was destroyed by concentrated fires of all systems. The SAU-152s were our reserve for reinforcing the threatened axis or sector in the course of the battle.
On my order, Guards Lieutenant Nikolay Petukhov’s paratroopers carefully began clearing the blocks adjoining the area occupied by our force. Their task was to clean out enemy soldiers. The fact that the electricity remained functioning in central Vienna until 0200 initially facilitated the accomplishment of this mission. As soon as the enemy realized the situation, he turned out the lights.
The night was uneasy. Knowing the city well, the Germans made several reconnaissance forays. They threw grenades at our tanks from the roofs and upper floors of houses. We had to park our Shermans under the archways of buildings. The paratroopers quickly liquidated this danger from above. The crews did not sleep. All were at their battle stations, prepared to defeat an enemy attack. Only near morning did the driver-mechanics and gun commanders manage to snatch a bit of rest. No one doubted that at dawn the enemy would launch his attack. And we were not mistaken. The enemy made his first strong attack in the morning.
Not long before this, the Germans had begun to fire with an antitank gun at an Emcha parked under an arch. During the night, they had dragged it to the upper floor of one of the houses north of Ratush’. The enemy managed to damage the tracks on two tanks. We quickly had to take appropriate measures to prevent the majority of our vehicles east of Ratush’, the university, and parliament from being damaged. We wanted to leave them in those positions because from there they could better engage an attacking enemy.
I called the commander of the SAU-152 battery and ordered him immediately to suppress the enemy firing point. The self-propelled gun, sliding along the asphalt on its broad tracks, took a position on one of the streets on the southeastern side of the square.
All of us were curious. We wanted to watch the self-propelled gun blow the German gunners and their cannon to pieces. The tankers and paratroopers poured out into the street and began to wait. Now, recalling those minutes, I cannot excuse myself. As an inexperienced commander, I committed a serious error. At the time, I permitted these spectators to line the street. We paid a high price.
The Viennese lanes that ran in various directions from the central square were not wide. Beautiful houses with Venetian blinds on their windows rose up on both sides of these lanes. Each soldier and officer would learn to his misfortune that these windows would end up on the street.
The shot of the self-propelled gun’s large-caliber cannon roared forth. The air itself shook. One and one-half floors of the house, together with the enemy antitank gun and its crew, crashed to the ground. And in our own position? With a crash, the powerful shock wave of the shot broke the thin window glass in the houses near the self-propelled gun. Heavy shards of glass poured down on the heads of our spectators. The result was lamentable: scores of wounded arms and backs and two broken collarbones. Thankfully, the tankers were wearing their headgear and the paratroopers their helmets. Their heads remained intact. What now! We were fighting our tanks inside a large city for the first time. Bad experience is experience, just the same!
There was no time to moan or complain. Enemy tanks were already moving along several streets toward the university and the parliament. Infantry were attacking behind them, using the tanks for cover. The enemy was beginning an attack on a broad front. Very well, then, the hour had come to cross swords—armor with armor, fire with fire! We had the advantage. The battalion was deployed in combat formation. The Sherman fired more accurately from a stationary position.
A Panther, the thick armor of its turret and hull forming a shield, was leading the attackers on every street. The long-range cannons of the heavy tanks that stopped outside the direct fire range of our Shermans’ 76-mm main guns enabled them to strike our combat vehicles from a significant distance. In this unfavorable situation, the Emcha crews, on general command, employed a minor but important deception. They backed their tanks deeper into the archways. They remained ready to reoccupy their position, on command, and spray the enemy with machine-gun fire. Battles are decided in seconds. The driver-mechanic of Guards Junior Lieutenant Bessol’tsev’s tank tarried a bit too long and was unable to reposition his vehicle immediately. This small lapse turned out to be fatal. The Emcha was hit. The commander and assistant driver-mechanic were wounded, but the main gun was undamaged. The crew bandaged themselves and remained at their stations on order of the junior lieutenant. The immobile Sherman was prepared for an unequal duel with an antitank round loaded in the main gun. The radio operator prepared a smoke pot; its dark gray screen at the right moment would effectively conceal the tank’s position.
The rapid disappearance of our tanks, it seems, somewhat discouraged the enemy crews. The Panthers stopped. They hesitated, then slowly moved forward. One of the Panthers turned toward Bessol’tsev’s tank, in all probability intending quickly to close the range in order to fire the killing shot. The junior lieutenant understood the enemy tank commander’s intention. He ordered the radio operator to throw the smoke pot forward. The thick cloud of smoke began to obscure the archway and the street in front of it. Now let the enemy try to find the target.
At this time, assistance sent by the company commander, Guards Senior Lieutenant Ionov, came to Bessol’tsev by the rear courtyards. Knocking down the intervening fence, the Sherman of Lieutenant Abib Bakuridze approached Bessol’tsev’s tank from the rear, quickly hooked a tow cable onto it, and towed it to a safe place.
The Panthers did finally reach the line where they could be destroyed by the fire of the Emchas’ 76.2-mm guns. The command went out over the radio: “Take your positions!” Ten seconds later, the archways of the houses on the eastern edge of the central square were bristling with the Shermans’ long barrels. A cannon duel commenced at close range.
Combat in cities is a great number of violent isolated engagements, in which success depends on the quickness of actions, the coolness of commanders of all ranks, the mastery of each crew member, and the skill of the infantry support troops. Guards Lieutenant Konstantin Drozdovskiy’s tank was in a very good position. The archway entrance into the courtyard was ten meters from the corner of the building. Adjoining the house was a small square. Earlier, Konstantin had prepared a good route for maneuver out from under the archway into the square and back. And not in vain.
Up to one and one-half platoons of enemy submachine gunners were advancing on Drozdovskiy’s position. Behind them were two Panthers. The forces were unequal. But the Guards Emchisti did not flinch. They skillfully engaged in a one-on-one firefight. The lieutenant ordered the full weight of his main gun to rain upon the infantry, who represented a great danger to the tank.
And then immediately to change positions. Volley fire with high-explosive rounds cut through the enemy submachine gunners very well. Those who survived immediately turned back and took cover behind the tank and in a house. The sector of observation and fire was better from the new position. Konstantin saw two armored vehicles approaching the square. They were almost in one line, in places shielding their vehicles behind house walls.
There was deep thought shown in this combat formation. The Germans correctly figured that our tank could simultaneously knock out both targets with a single shot. An intact Panther managed to detect and hit an Emcha before the Sherman’s crew was able to reload their main gun. In this single action, the enemy tank commanders demonstrated that they were not novices on the battlefield. Drozdovskiy accepted the enemy’s challenge and turned out to be more clever than the Germans. The first antitank round struck the right flank Panther on its left track. The intact right track drove this tank to the left, pressing the adjacent tank into a wall. Both enemy tanks froze in place. At the same instant, a smoke pot flew from the turret of Drozdovskiy’s tank. The thick cloud of smoke filled the square and street, depriving the Germans of any possibility of conducting aimed fire. Konstantin again changed his position. When the whitish shroud of smoke dissipated somewhat, the guards spotted a backward-moving Panther. A precision-fired antitank round forced it to stop in the middle of the street.
My command observation post was in the opera house. My reserve, the SAU-152 battery, was nearby. Radio reports were coming in from the company commanders. I was monitoring the conversations of platoon leaders with their subordinates, describing the axis of the enemy’s main attack from a position north of Ratush’ and the university to Belvedere Palace. The enemy’s intentions were manifestly obvious: to divide our detachment’s combat formation into two parts, press the larger (eastern) portion toward the Danube canal, and destroy it.
As a result of an almost forty-minute fight, the attacking tanks and infantry were halted at the approaches to the central square, three Panthers were destroyed, and we lost two Shermans. Not less than fifty enemy submachine gunners were killed or wounded. Our method of combating tanks—”hunting with Borzois”—that we had tested in past battles was not used in beating off the Germans’ attack. Although I reminded everyone about it before the battle, I did not require its employment during our first encounter with the enemy. Drozdovskiy made one unsuccessful attempt, from out of a narrow alley. Not one Panther presented its flank to him, therefore he did not engage them. The damaged track of a heavy tank can be repaired in a short time. Meanwhile, this armored pillbox is capable of conducting powerful fire with its long-range gun. The enemy, gathering up his forces, could once again launch his attack with the support of the immobilized Panther.
I had to turn the developing situation in our favor. And the quicker the better for our subsequent presence in Vienna. Our self-propelled guns were an effective means at my disposal. I discussed a plan of action with Senior Lieutenant Yakov Petru-khin, the battery commander of the big salts. We agreed on the following: the self-propelled guns, employing the long range and firepower of their 152,-mm guns, would strike first at the mobile Panthers. Their second priority was to fire on vehicles that had already been hit. This method would minimize the expenditure of ammunition. We faced many hours of combat before the arrival of our own troops. The battery commander would pay special attention to concealing the movement of his self-propelled guns into firing positions. The Sherman crews would try at this time to distract the attention of the enemy tankers, conducting fire in order to blind them.
Yakov Petrukhin reported that he had selected two very suitable firing positions: they had good cover in front to defend the hull of his vehicles from enemy armor-piercing shells.
The firing intensity increased from our side along the entire eastern line. The Emchisti were attempting to solve two problems at once: to prevent the Germans from spilling out onto the central square by blocking them up in the surrounding streets and to cover the movement of the self-propelled guns to firing positions.
How slowly time passes when one awaits the decisive moments in a fight with the enemy. There was no doubt—the turning point was near. The long-awaited time had arrived. Two thundering shots assaulted our eardrums, blowing the glass out of the windows of nearby houses and rattling other windows some distance away. “Pardon us, beautiful city, that we cause you to tremble, and at times, we destroy parts of you! The laws of war are ruthless!” I wanted to cry out loudly, seeing the destruction we were causing.
The second Viennese spectacle turned out to be no less impressive. The strike of a large-caliber projectile (Yakov had ordered a concrete-breaking round loaded, for greater effect) knocked the turret off one of the Panthers that bad already almost crawled into the square. The second heavy tank blazed up in an enormous fire. The SAU-152 immediately abandoned its position. It was as if they had poured boiling water on the enemy. The awkward armored vehicles hurriedly began to withdraw rearward. The enemy infantry, now lacking tank support, ran away through courtyards and alleys.
And so the enemy’s first attempt to divide the raiding detachment suffered defeat. The Shermans and paratroopers stubbornly held the center of Vienna. I reported the battalion’s situation to the brigade commander. He informed me that corps units were conducting a successful attack on the southern approaches to the Austrian capital.
Our chain of command took all necessary measures to provide air cover for the detachment. Thanks to their efforts, the battalion was not once subjected to German air attack during our entire time in the city. On the morning of 10 April, our fighters appeared in the sky above Vienna. We signaled our positions to the pilots with red rockets and sent them a radio password.
An air battle took place a bit later. One after the other, two Messerschmitts went down in flames. Trailing streamers of black smoke, they crashed into a forest. One of our aircraft was also shot down. A small speck separated from it, and several seconds later, the canopy of a parachute opened above it. The pilot was descending into the city. Suddenly, a Messerschmitt dove on him out of the clouds. An instant later, it was going after the defenseless pilot. Two Shermans simultaneously fired their antiaircraft machine guns. The enemy fighter broke off without firing the deadly burst.
The parachut1st was well oriented and, controlling his direction of descent with the risers, came down over us. It is quite risky to land in a city. He could land on the roof of a house, strike against a wall, or be hung up in a tree. He had to be extremely attentive. The “sky ghost” failed to see a high-voltage line and caught his risers on its wires.
How could we get him down? It was dangerous for him to jump—the distance to the ground was too great. We stretched a tarpaulin between two Shermans, with the edges tied to the turret hatches. The pilot unbuckled his parachute harness and dropped like a rock. The strong canvas net cushioned the heavy blow. Giving way slightly, the tarpaulin threw the pilot upward. He quickly found himself in the tankers’ embrace.
The detachment’s personnel had not eaten hot food in more than a day. They were eating dry rations. If my memory serves me correctly, in the center of Vienna was a restaurant that went by the name Astoria. I decided to order dinner for 180 people at this establishment. I delegated the battalion chief of staff, Guards Senior Lieutenant Nikoiay Bogdanov (who spoke German fluently) to reach an agreement with the restaurant owner. The desired meal time was 1200 (Moscow time). We had foreign currency—dollars, pounds sterling, and shillings —to pay for the dinner.
There was no doubt that the enemy’s morning attempt to attack our positions would not be his last. Taking advantage of the coming lull, I headed for the area of the art history museum with a group of officers. It was possible that the Germans would again throw themselves at us from the Ottakring or Funfhaus sectors. We had to inspect the organization of the defenses on the approach to the museum and make some adjustments to the system of fire based on the experience of the enemy attack we had just defeated. I repositioned the SAU-152 battery to an area south of the parliament.
After conducting the necessary work with the units, I decided to take a quick glance at the museum, to see its displays. We entered the building and were stunned. The halls were completely empty of paintings or sculptures. The walls showed only various sized dark rectangular and oval patches, signs that canvases hung here at one time. During the war years, each of us had seen the fascists’ crimes more than once. And here was their latest crime: the theft of the artworks and historical artifacts that were the state property of Austria.
Passing through the labyrinth of large and small halls, we found ourselves in a cellar area. Immense joy flooded over us: here were stacked hundreds of latticed, reinforced crates. As it became clear, these crates contained the museum’s displays —paintings, sculptures, and so on. It was obvious to everyone that the Germans were preparing to ship them. The hurried entrance of our raiding detachment into Vienna had disrupted the enemy’s plans. These priceless treasures had not disappeared!
I returned to my command observation post in the left wing of the narliament. Nikolay Bogdanov and the restaurant owner were waiting there. The Austrian wanted to confirm one important detail of the upcoming meal. What kind of alcoholic beverages should be served? I thought about it for several seconds. This was not a minor issue. So I decided to allow the Emchisti and the paratroopers to drink a limited amount. They had earned it. “And what does the proprietor of the Astoria have?” I asked Bogdanov. “Cognac.” Ï calculated that the troops had gone more than a day without sleep or rest. How strong a potion would not harm our mission? “And what else does he have, besides cognac?” “French champagne!” The restaurateur raised the thumb of his right hand and pronounced, “Gut!”
Who would have believed it! Where, and when, would we dirty -coveralled tankers get a chance to drink such nectar! I ordered champagne for the tables, one bottle for every two men. “Does the manager have an adequate supply?” I turned to Bogdanov. The Austrian made a mental calculation and replied affirmatively, “Ninety bottles is nothing!” We agreed on this quantity.
Thirty minutes before the appointed meal hour, the restaurant owner invited the battalion command to the covered tables. The table appointments were beyond criticism: snow-white table linens, nickel-plated utensils, and beautiful porcelain ware. In sum, everything was high class. Without a word from us, the owner and the chef walked around all the tables and sampled each prepared dish. This in itself guaranteed the quality of the meal.
The command went out to all the units: leave half the crews and paratroopers in the positions, and the remainder come to the Astoria for dinner! Thirty minutes was allocated for the meal, followed by a changeover of the personnel. Departure from and return to the positions were to be conducted with the strictest observation of security measures.
The tankers, artillerymen, and paratroopers liked dinner. Yes! This was their first such feast along their wartime roads (for some, thousands of kilometers). No doubt, they would remember it for the rest of their lives.
My deputies, chiefs of services, and I (seven persons altogether) began to discuss how much money to pay for this fare and with what currency. I will openly admit that we all were total novices in these matters. We made a “Solomonic” decision, to let the restaurateur himself present us with a bill for the meal and specify the currency of payment.
The battalion chief of finance services placed three stacks of currency on the table: dollars, pounds sterling, and Austrian shillings. We called over the owner of the Astoria. Nikolay Bogdanov explained what was required of him. He hesitated a bit with his answer, and then expressed a preference for “greenbacks.” He named a sum. I took the stack of dollars, the bank seal still affixed, and, saying “Bitte!” handed it to Austrian. With a slight tilt of his head, he accepted the money and immediately secreted it in the inside pocket of his jacket. After several seconds, he pulled the money out of that location and hurriedly thrust it into his pants pocket, not releasing it from his hand. With some trepidation in his eyes, he threw a hurried glance in our direction. The pupils of his eyes (I wasn’t the only one who noticed) were greatly enlarged. What was bothering him? Unfortunately, we never found out. My tank commander, Guards Lieutenant Ivan Filin, came running in and exclaimed, “The Germans are attacking again!” We flew out from behind the table like the wind. Everyone hurried to his combat post.
We defeated this German attack, from the Funfhaus area in the direction of the art history museum and the opera house, easily and quickly. Having lost one tank and perhaps thirty soldiers and officers, the enemy withdrew to his starting positions. We had six wounded and two killed.
By the evening of 10 April, attacking units of the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps broke through toward the center of Vienna through Meydling. The Shermans filled the streets and lanes of the Austrian capital. Our raiding detachment had accomplished its difficult combat mission! The battalion had fought in the enemy’s rear, separated from the brigade and corps main bodies for twenty-four hours. The enemy had lost four tanks, two antitank guns, and approximately one hundred soldiers and officers. Our ranks were also depleted: four Emchas were destroyed, ten men were killed, and fifteen were wounded. In these most difficult conditions, the detachment’s soldiers and commanders displayed exceptional endurance, courage, and determination. They had mastered their experience of combat in a large city.
All the enlisted personnel of the 1st Tank Battalion, 46th Guards Brigade, the paratroopers, and the artillerymen were recommended for decorations. Later, I was awarded the esteemed rank of Hero of the Soviet Union.
On 13 April 1945, after stubborn street battles, our forces took full control of the city of Vienna. Many of our troops were awarded the medal “For the Capture of Vienna.”
The first anniversary of Victory Day was being celebrated in our unit on 9 May 1946. At a ceremonial dinner on the occasion of this holiday, one of the officers said, “Hey, this is not even half the dinner we had in Vienna!” Those commanders who understood what he was talking about began to laugh. “What did you expect?”
I immediately questioned the chief of finance: “How much did we pay the owner of the Astoria for our meal?” “Comrade commander, do you remember the denomination of the bills in that packet of money?” “I think they were $100 bills.” “Yes. And there were fifty of them.” “Damn!” “We paid that hospitable Viennese $5,000 for that dinner.”
That’s what we thought at the time. Sometime not too long ago, I had a conversation with one of our Russian embassy officials. I told him about those long-ago April days of 1945 and about the dinner in Vienna and our settlement with the restaurateur. He corrected me. “There were not fifty, but one hundred $100 bills in that packet. This was the traditional bank packet!” This is why the Austrian’s eyes got so big. It turns out that we, simple Russian soldiers, paid him generously! Probably no one had ever settled a bill so lavishly in this restaurant. So much so that it left him speechless.
Commanding the Red Army’s Sherman Tanks
The World War II Memoirs of Hero of the Soviet Union Dmitriy Loza
Edited and translated by James F. Gebhardt