Always and everywhere

Down the years remember this:

Tragedy came in 1941

And victory only in 1945.

Konstantin Vanshenkin



June 22, 1941. The darkness of the night was fading. It was about four o'clock in the morning


when frontier guards noticed many multi-colored lights in the sky, moving quickly from the west.


Soon they covered the entire horizon. Then the hum of motors could be heard. Hundreds of


planes were crossing the border with their running lights on. Black crosses could be seen on their


wings and fuselages. Artillery began to pound away si­multaneously from the other side of the


river. A moment later the earth shook from exploding shells and bombs. The border areas were


engulfed in smoke and dust and fires started in ma­ny spots.


This was the initial stage of the Barbarossa Plan, approved by the nazi High Command in


December, 1940. According to this plan, three large military groupings were massed along the


Soviet border - 190 enemy divisions with solid military experi­ence, numbering five and a half


million officers and men, roughly 4,300 panzers, about 5,000 planes and over 47,000 guns and


mortars. The numerical balance of forces in the first echelons which began to fight on June 22,


was in favor of the enemy, and in many sectors, including that of Brest, the enemy was


numerically 3-4 times stronger than the Soviet forces. In the focus of the main thrusts, where the


Wehrmacht had creat­ed large, compact, fighting groups, the nazi troops had even greater


numerical superiority.


The largest grouping, the Army Group Center, composed of two armies and two panzer groups,


was assigned to attack in the central sector of the front. Its total force was composed of more


than 50 divisions. This group had air cover provided by the 2nd Luftwaffe Division (more than


1,600 planes). The Brest sector was attacked by the 4th Army under the command of Field


Marshal Kluge and the 2nd Panzer Group led by General Heinz Guderian. Units of the 4th Army


covering 150 kilometers of the border stood firm against the nazi divisions in the Brest Sector.


The enemy forces outnumbered Soviet forces 3 times over in this area. Brest and its fortress


were located along the line of the main thrust by the Army Group Center.


Brest and its fortress were meant to be taken by the 12th Army Infantry Corps. The 45th Division,


formed in Hitler's hometown Braunau in the mountains of Upper Austria, occupied the very center


of the attack. This division was trained to be unwave­ringly loyal to the Fuhrer and to believe in the


unquestionable importance of his mission. The 45th Division had been active in the occupation of


Poland and France. Now it undertook the storming of the Brest Fortress, for which it was


equipped with 12 batteries of artillery, 9 batteries of the 4th Specialized Chemical Regiment,


several powerful 550-600-millimetre Tor guns capable of shooting high explosive and bunker-


bursting shells weighing 1,250-2,200 kilograms. Five hundred guns capable of firing 4,000 shells


per minute were aimed at the fortress. Massive air coverage was provided for the 45th Divi­sion.


One participant in the storming of the Brest Fortress, a chaplain in the 45th Division, Rudolf


Gschopf, wrote many years afterwards: "At 3:15 a.m. sharp (4:15 a.m. Moscow Time) a hurricane


began, which blew over our heads with such force that we had never experienced be­fore, nor


during the rest of the war... This gigantic concentra­tion of firepower literally shook the earth." Four


thousand shells and mines per minute were fired into the four-square-kilometers fortress.


According to the nazi High Command's plan, the 45th Division was to capture the fortress within a


few hours and then continue the offensive.


Who was in the fortress when this fearful blow was struck? In the months before the war began,


the garrison in the fortress numbered about 14,000 officers and men. At the end of June,


however, many units were engaged in defensive construction works or were in training camps.


On the night before the attack, there were 7,000-8,000 men from various units including the


personnel of the garrison hospital and medical unit. Moreover, the families, wives and children of


the servicemen were inside the fortress.


According to a secret order for the war-time, the troops had to leave the fortress and join their


units, scatted in the outskirts of Brest. In the first few hours of the war, before the fortress was


encircled, approximately half of the garrison managed to leave the fortress. Nearly 3,500-4,000


officers and men thus remained inside the fortress.


Five to ten minutes before the beginning of the artillery fire, German assault units captured the


bridges across the Bug Riv­er, which units of the 12th Army Corps then crossed, heading for Brest.


A massive column of enemy panzers moved north­wards and southwards of Brest, bypassing the


city as they headed eastwards.


The enemy hastened to exploit the advantages of their unexpected attack. The guns continued to


pound away while the advance assault detachments of submachine-gunners tried to force the


Bug on pontoons and rubber dinghies, hoping to capture the fortress in one energetic thrust. The


nazis' at­tempt to take the fortress in one fell swoop failed, however.


"We thought everything inside the fortress had been turned into a pile of rubble," Rudolf Gschopf


wrote in his mem­oirs. "We were proved wrong. The Russian soldiers were awa­kened from their


sleep by our attack, but they recovered very quickly, grouped themselves, and began a


desperate, stub­born, and organized defense."


The Brest Fortress proved to be the major point of resist­ance for the enemy on the


western frontier. It occupied a fairly large area. Its external boundary extended 6.4


kilometers along the outside. The western part was occupied by the Terespol Fortification


on the other side of the bridge. The Bug River flowed between the Citadel and this


fortification. The Volhyn Fortification, divided from the Citadel by the left branch of the


Mukhavets, occupied the southern part of the fortress. The Kobrin Fortification, divided


from the Citadel by the right branch of the Mukhavets, protected its north and east sides.


The Cita­del itself was located on an island encircled by the Bug on the west and by the


Mukhavets on the south, east, and north.




The Volhyn Fortification is situated beyond the calm waters of the left branch of the Mukhavets. A


bridge leads to the fortifica­tion - an exact copy of the bridge destroyed in the early hours of the


war. The ruins of the burned-out army hospital attests to the tragedy which took place here on the


morning of June 22, 1941. The fragments of casemates, overgrown with grass and foliage, look


calm and peaceful today.


The grounds of the Volhyn Fortification, which the enemy troops tried to capture in the first


hours of the war, contained border-guard details, a regimental school (whose cadets were out on


exercises), a large military hospital, and a medical unit. At the beginning of the war, the military


hospital was in the process of being moved. A large portion of the patients and medical personnel


had fortunately already been moved out. It was fortunate, because the first enemy shells and


bombs fell on the hospital buildings. The most seriously ill patients were killed, while those who


could move hid in the casemates of the earthworks, and many even took up arms to beat off the


attack. The hospital defense was organized by Commissar Nikolai Bogateyev and Dr. Stepan


Babkin. The doctors, nurses, orderlies, and patients also took up weapons, but naturally could not


withstand the crack infantry troops for long. The assault forces penetrated the hospital grounds.


By noon on June 22 the nazi troops had captured most of the buildings on the hospital grounds.


They then killed the remaining patients and wounded officers and men.


Fighting continued on the fortification grounds. The de­fense  that was smounted at the South


Gates and on the outer earthworks was especially fierce. Nurses treated the patients and


wounded men who had hidden in the casemates. One nurse, Praskovya Tkacheva, recorded the


names and addresses of those who were there that day, on her trade-union membership card.


This document survived the war. It records that a nineteen-year-old nurse, Vera Khoretskaya,


died while shielding a wounded sol­dier as the enemy infantry closed in.


The nazi troops captured the main body of the Volhyn Forti­fication only towards the end of the


third day. Only eighteen of its defenders remained alive.




The rubble of bricks and shattered, broken walls are all that re­mains today in many spots of the


Brest Fortress, including the Terespol Fortification. They are a living testimony to the fierce




Immediately after the beginning of the military offensive, the assault troops succeeded in entering


the Terespol Fortifica­tion, which protected the Citadel on the west. Three hundred Soviet officers


and men were inside: frontier-guards, students at the army drivers' school, a transport company,


an engineer platoon, cavalry officers doing their summer training here and athletes. Although this


diverse group was unprepared to beat off an enemy surprise attack, within several hours it


managed to drive out the enemy troops from most of the fortification. Two border-guard officers,


Fyodor Melnikov and Akim Cherny, led the organization of the defense.


The defenders were too few in number, however, and they did not have sufficient ammunition and


provisions. They there­fore fought their way through first - on the night of June 24 - to the Kobrin


Fortification, and then - on June 30 - to the Cita­del.


The steadfastness of one defender of the Terespol Fortifica­tion is illustrated in these words:


"During our breakthrough, we found a border-guard with a light machine-gun in the bushes.


There were a great many spent cartridge cases on the ground around him, along with reserve


disks for his machine-gun, and there were dozens of dead Nazis lying nearby. This was


apparently one of the border posts. War had found him here and he remained at his post all these


days carrying on an unequal battle with the enemy. He looked terrible: his eyes were blood­shot,


his face was gray and pinched, and his bony hands clutched the machine-gun grip. He had


obviously not eaten or slept for several days. He seemed to be unconscious. Suddenly he raised


his head and looked at us. We suggested that he should join us, but he parted his cracked lips


with difficulty and said firmly: "I will never leave this spot."


Only fifteen men remained alive out of the three hundred who defended the Terespol Fortification.


The enemy suffered heavy losses, too, however. Another excerpt from Rudolph Gschopf's


memoirs reads: "Our losses, both officers and men, were soon very high... Soviet soldiers hidden


in the bushes on the West Island effectively stopped our troops." According to Gschopf, the


headquarters of the 3rd Battalion of the 135th In­fantry Regiment and the 1st Battalion of the 99th


Artillery Re­giment of the German army were encircled and destroyed on the first day of the war,


and the officers of these units were killed.




Before us we see the earthwork of the Kobrin Fortification cov­ered with grass. Part of the


embankment is occupied by a pow­erful cement structure. In the middle stands a gigantic five-


pointed star - the symbol of the Soviet Army. The cement structure is pierced by rays which serve


as the main entrance to the Brest Fortress.


The Battles at the Eastern Earthworks. The Citadel was protected on the north and east by the


Kobrin Fortification, the largest in area. Up to 1,000 officers and men from various units took part


in its defense. Of course, the defense of the fortification was not organized along the entire line.


There were not enough troops for that. Three pockets of resistance were there­fore formed where


the defenders had to act independently.


Memories of the battles for the Kobrin Fortification are still alive. The eastern earthworks where


the cement block with the star - the main entrance to the fortress - is located is itself a witness to


the battles.


A bronze memorial plaque hangs inside the fortress' main entrance showing a page from a


calendar with broken lines running diagonally across it and the words, "July 5, 1941. Ar­tillery


soldiers held the eastern earthworks". There are many memorial plaques of this type throughout


the fortress.


On the eve of the war this spot was occupied by the 98th In­dependent Anti-Tank Artillery


Battalion. When fighting began, the battalion's soldiers began to force their way out under


fire towards the main fighting area. As they approached the East­ern Gate, they entered


into battle with enemy tanks. Many of the tanks burned when hit by shells, and their


burned-out car­casses obstructed the route taken by the main body of the So­viet artillery


battalion. The soldiers were forced to take up de­fensive position on the Eastern


Earthworks. Lieutenant Ivan Akimochkin, the battalion's chief of staff and Senior Political


Instructor Nikolai Nesterchuk, took charge of the defense.


The artillery soldiers fought off all attacks in difficult skir­mishes along the entire line of defense


until nightfall. Their supply of shells was running out, however. An ammunition supply depot was


nearby - only a few dozen meters away - but it was impossible to reach because of a solid wall of


mortar fire. Despite the risks incurred, the drivers of the still intact towing vehicles succeeded in


making several runs to the depot and brought hundreds of shells back to the fighting positions.


The days passed and the artillery units, who had occupied an all-round defense position, stopped


and burned enemy tanks and eliminated all infantry attacks. In one of the battles, a gun crew


commanded by Vasily Volokitin dispersed an enemy infantry column. When tanks appeared,


Volokitin set the lead­ing tank on fire, but they continued to advance. The entire gun crew died in


this unequal battle.


The artillery soldiers beat off enemy attacks from the direc­tion of the Moscow Highway and the


Volhyn Fortification in their position at the crest of the earthworks, which is still well-preserved


today. Panzers advanced on the embankment from several sides and enemy submachine-


gunners approached on foot. From up on top of the crest bursts of machine-gun fire and solitary


shell-bursts rang out. Grigory Derevyanko, the assis­tant political officer, met the enemy assault


units with machine-gun fire. He and his comrades dug a gun emplace­ment on the earthwork and


forced enemy troops back for sev­eral days.


The battalion held on steadfastly, but their situation was becoming markedly worse. Their lack of


adequate ammunition and food supplies was obvious, the soldiers had no water, and the


wounded needed medical attention. Nikolai Nesterchuk was wounded by an enemy grenade


during one of the attacks.


A small red flag was unfurled above the casemate near the Eastern Gate. It was struck down by


shells and machine-gun fire, yet each time the soldiers raised it again.


A chain of casemates guarding the Eastern Earthworks leads off to the right of the main entrance.


On July 4, the thir­teenth day of the defense, the surviving soldiers headed by Aki­mochkin hid


inside these semicircular structures with brick walls. Many guns were damaged, the shell supply


had been exhausted, and there were very few cartridges left, yet the soldiers continued to fight.


The casemates are badly mutilated by fire. The intense heat caused their vaults to melt, forming


suspended drops of melted brick on their ceilings. The casemates might have been burning for


many days, or maybe the flamethrowers literally had burnt out the fortress' defenders.


After repeated, attacks, the nazis succeeded in breaking into the casemates. After hand-to-hand


combat, they captured Ivan Akimochkin, who was wounded and shell-shocked. Lieutenant


Akimochkin was executed.


The Defense of the East Fort. If we go further along the Eastern Earthworks, we will arrive at the


East Fort. It is sur­rounded by a horseshoe earthwork and the fort itself is below ground level: it


has a courtyard and a two-storey high brick wall with casemates hidden in the ground behind it. It


is a solid, powerful structure. The fighting over forty years ago is attested to by the breaches in


the walls, the badly damaged gun-slits, the shattered window openings, and the soot still


remaining from fires.


This was the largest defense sector of the Kobrin Fortifica­tion. Major Pyotr Gavrilov, the


experienced and energetic com­mander of the 44th Rifle Regiment, took over command of this




Awakened by the first explosions early in the morning of June 22, Gavrilov dressed quickly, said


goodbye to his wife and son, and ran to the Citadel where his regimental headquarters was


located. Collecting several dozen soldiers, Gavrilov head­ed toward the fortress' North Gate in


order to take up position in the defensive line. The exit through the gate proved to be closed off,


however, and so Gavrilov then organized a defense sector by the North Gate on the fortress


earthwork. Other sol­diers already fighting here joined his own men. Gavrilov's group kept up an


exchange of fire with the submachine-gunners in their established positions until June 24, then


retreated to the East Fort. The soldiers fighting by the North Gate were joined by anti-aircraft


gunners, transport soldiers, and soldiers from other units quartered inside the fortress before the


out­break of the war. In addition to the rifles already possessed by the assorted group, the soldiers


now had several 45-millimetre anti-tank cannons, two anti-aircraft guns, and a quadruple-


mounted anti-aircraft machine-gun.


As soon as the soldiers took up their positions in the fort, Major Gavrilov elaborated a defense for


this vital spot. He organized the officers and men of the various units into a mighty fighting body


and appointed commanding officers of the fort. Companies were formed, defense areas were


defined, tele­phone links were established, reconnaissance was organized, and a medical unit


was set up where officers' wives and child­ren who had made their way to the fort were assisting


the nurses. In the initial stage of the defense, the number of de­fenders in the fort was about 400


people, including women and children.


The same situation could be found in many sections of the fortress. The surprise attack had


dispersed soldiers from vari­ous units and thrown them together in a haphazard fashion. The units


themselves had been thinned out because many of­ficers and men were killed in the first few days


of the fighting. The remaining officers tried to transform the remaining soldiers into a monolithic


force, to supply them with arms, to protect them, and to make use of the forces at their disposal in


a rational fashion. There was simply no time for the soldiers or officers to search for their own


battalions, companies, or pla­toons. They all had to unite to rebuff the massive onslaught of the




Gavrilov's group spent their first day in the fort defending their positions and beating off enemy


attacks. Artillery units also took part in the battles. Anti-aircraft gunners drove back the enemy


tanks that tried to penetrate the fortress grounds through the North Gate, with their weapons. The


situation be­came worse on the second day. The fort was surrounded and the enemy began a




That night Senior Lieutenant Sergei Shramko and a group of soldiers mined the approaches to


the fort. Shramko and Private Ivan Zedginidze were killed on the way back to the fort. The mines


they had planted worked successfully. When panzers attacked the fort, several were badly


damaged by the mines. Volunteers holding bundles of grenades went out against the tanks, and


the tank assault was driven back.


Then the enemy intensified bombing of the little earthen horseshoe earthwork with the handful of


Soviet soldiers inside. The anti-aircraft gunners shot down an enemy airplane and continued to


beat off the panzer attacks. Each day the artillery fire increased and the bombings became more


merciless. From time to time enemy submachine-gunners reached the crest of the earthwork and


lobbed grenades into the horseshoe-shaped yard.



The commander of the nazi 45th Infantry Division wrote in his reports: "It was impossible to


advance here with only infan­try at our disposal because the highly-organised rifle and ma­chine-


gun fire from the deep gun emplacements and horse­shoe-shaped yard cut down anyone who


approached. There was only one solution - to force the Russians to capitulate through hunger


and thirst. We were ready to use any means available to exhaust them... Our offers to give


themselves up were unsuccessful...


"June 28. The tanks and assault weapons continued their fire on the East Fort, but with little




"Shelling from the 88-millimetre anti-aircraft gun also pro­duced no results.


"June 29. From 8 a.m. on our planes dropped a great many five-hundred-kilogram bombs, but


also without results. Renewed artillery fire on the East Fort from tanks and assault weapons


proved just as ineffectual."


The defenders of the East Fort were given an ultimatum - to lay down their arms and hand


over their commanding officers. They were given one hour to make up their minds. If they did not


consent, the nazi command threatened to wipe the fortifi­cation and its garrison from the face of


the earth. An open Party meeting, the third and last in the East Fort, was called during this brief


hour. In explaining the situation to the soldiers, Pyotr Gavrilov said they could no longer count on


outside help and that the enemy had promised not to kill them if they ceased fighting. The


soldiers unanimously resolved to fight to their last bullet and to the last man.


When the hour passed, enormous explosions rocked the fort as a merciless assault began.


The commanding officer of the German 45th Infantry Division wrote: "June 30. The as­sault was


readied with petrol, oil, and grease. All this was rolled into the fort's trenches in barrels and


bottles, which we expect­ed to burn with grenades and incendiary bullets."


The casemates caught fire from the unabated artillery bar­rage and the solid brick vaults


collapsed. An ammunition stor­age area exploded when hit by a heavy bomb and part of the fort


was turned into rubble. Enemy machine-gunners broke through to the external embankment and


then to the central yard of the horseshoe. Desperate hand-to-hand skirmishes be­gan. At this


critical moment. Junior Sergeant Rodion Semenyuk and two soldiers buried the standard of the


393rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion in one of the casemates on the fort's west side. Fifteen years


later, Semenyuk returned to Brest, found the spot, and dug the standard up. Today we can see


the site.


Another casemate that we can view today served as a ref­uge for Gavrilov and two soldiers


when the garrison's resist­ance had been broken and the enemy occupied the fort. This refuge


was a deep burrow leading out of the casemate into the earthwork.


Gavrilov and the soldiers spent several days in this hole,


then decided to break through the enemy posts and make their way to Belovezhskaya Pushcha


Forest. They emerged from their refuge at night and, as agreed beforehand, split up and went in


different directions. Gavrilov succeeded in making his way through the line of posts and reached


the north-west sec­tion of the external earthwork. He crossed it and came out on the bank of the


canal by the fortress. However, on the other bank a massive line of enemy posts blocked the


way. Gavrilov decided to bide his time in a nearby caponier, now known as Gavrilov's Caponier.


The East Fort's commanding officer fought his last battle here.


If we follow Gavrilov's path north-west from the East Fort, we will come to the caponier. It is a


narrow, corner casemate with two firing slits, thick brick walls, and arched vaults. Water flows in


the by-pass canal and trees grow on the bank only a few meters from the caponier.


It was here in this stone hole that Gavrilov emptied his TT pistol and captured German


Walther of their last bullets. On Ju­ly 23, the 32nd day of the war, the nazis finally captured the


wounded and exhausted Major Gavrilov. He was liberated from a nazi concentration camp in


Germany by Soviet soldiers in April, 1945.


Fighting in the Residential Area of the Kobrin Fortifica­tion. A major defense center was


formed in the north-west sector of the Kobrin Fortification not far from the North Gate, where the


residential area was situated. A green and flowering street lined with the homes of officers'


families stretched al­most from one end of the Kobrin Fortification to the other. Fierce fighting and


time have effaced even the ruins here, even­ing out the remains of buildings and the ground.


On the last Sunday before the war, the officers' families re­laxed, watched films in the club,


and listened to music. Night fell and in house No. 8 where the family of Senior Political In­structor


Ivan Pochernikov lived, six-year-old Alik and five-year-old Nina fell asleep. Suddenly, the earth


seemed to open up.


The children did not even have the time to get out of bed. Either a bomb or a shell hit their room


directly and killed them. Pochernikov was wounded, but managed to run out into the street with


his wife. The street as such did not really exist any longer;


instead there was a huge, tumbling pile of stones threatening the lives of anyone caught there.


Women with children in their arms ran out of the flaming houses as planes dive-bombed and


strafed the running figures. There were scarcely any men in sight, for they had already reported


their barracks and units. Only the wounded were left behind: one of these was Ivan Pochernikov.


Aided by wounded soldiers, Pochernikov organized a de­fense of several buildings. He chose a


location near the en­trance of his own home, which was near a crossroad, as their basic position.


His wife, Alexandra, helped in the defense. They rebuffed several nazi attacks, but began to run


short of ammu­nition. Pochernikov's wife then crawled between buildings to remove the cartridge-


pouches from dead soldiers. Still, their ammunition was fast being used up. Finally, they were


down to their last two bullets. Enemy submachine-gunners were ap­proaching quickly, and the


tramp of their heavy boots could al­ready be heard. Two last shots rang out as Pochernikov and


his wife killed themselves rather than be captured.


Another group of homes was defended by soldiers headed by Captain Vladimir Shablovsky,


commanding officer of a bat­talion of the 1 25th Infantry Regiment. The enemy kept these


buildings under siege for three days, turning them into a pile of rubble. Nonetheless, each pile of


ruins concealed fighting men who fired at and repulsed the enemy. Women removed the


wounded from the field of battle and bandaged them, as well as bringing their men ammunition


and food.


Captain Shablovsky, who was an experienced and coura­geous officer, organized the defense


skillfully. The next morning fighting started again more fiercely than before and artillery fire was


intensified. German assault groups managed to occupy the ground floor of the building where


Shablovsky and his sol­diers were fighting. That night, in accordance with his instruc­tions, ten


volunteers lowered themselves on ropes from the first floor, quietly overcame the sentries, and


burst into the building, lobbing grenades at the nazi troops.


The enemy only succeeded in crushing the resistance offered by the few wounded soldiers with


tanks on June 24. Some of the defenders were taken prisoner, including Captain Shablovsky, his


wife Galina, and their children. The column of prisoners was taken under heavy convoy to the


rear of the fighting lines. When the column was in the middle of the old bridge leading across the


by-pass canal near the North Gate, Shablovsky brushed aside the guard and jumped over the


rail­ing into the water. He was cut down by submachine-gun fire. Galina Shablovskaya and her


daughters spent two weeks in the Brest prison. Then they settled in a village outside Brest, where


Galina soon began to serve as a liaison agent with a partisan detachment. She was captured by


the Gestapo while carrying out her duties in 1943, tortured, and hanged.


The street where the officers' homes once stood and which today leads from Brest to the North


Gate of the fortress is now named in honor of the Heroes of the Defense of the Brest For­tress. It


is a very ordinary street. Young mothers stroll along it with their children. Elderly people chat


quietly in their gardens, and boys play football.




The strongest center of defense of the Brest Fortress was in its central section, the Citadel,


located on an island. In the very first hours of the attack on the fortress, the enemy infantry tried


to make their way from the western fortification towards the for­tress' Terespol Gate, which was


the focus for the main thrust of the German 45th Infantry Division. If they succeeded in captur­ing


the gate, they would have penetrated the Citadel. Enemy assault troops also attempted to break


through into the Citadel through the Kholm and Brest Gates in order to block off the for­tress'


central section and isolate it from the earthwork on the other side of the bridge where intense


fighting was in progress.


Thirst. Today a broad road made of cement blocks leads from the main entrance to the Central


Island where the Citadel is located. There is a sculptural monument entitled Thirst to the left of


this road at the spot where the Mukhavets divides into two branches and washes the banks of the


Central Island.


The memorial shows a wounded soldier making his way through fire to the river. Inside the


fortress there are soldiers, women, and children dying of thirst. The soldier crawls to­wards the


riverbank for their sake, barely strong enough to make it, leaning on his submachine-gun. He is


striving to get even only a helmetful of water - so near and yet so unreachable. His twisted face,


his outstretched body, and his hand gripping the helmet, reaching towards the river attest to the


cruel and inhuman suffering he and his comrades experienced.


The lives of the fortress defenders were threatened from the very beginning of the siege by the


enemy who constantly bombed and strafed the fortress and attacked it with numeri­cally superior


assault troops. The defenders were ready to withstand even the most difficult and bloody battles,


to which the history of the defense attests.


Not only were the fortress defenders threatened by the nu­merically superior enemy, but soon


they also began to run out of food because many of the food supply depots had been ei­ther


destroyed or burnt. They collected whatever food there was left in the canteens and in the badly-


damaged ware­houses. It was far too little, though, and each passing day made their hunger


pangs sharper.


Medical supplies and bandages also quickly ran out. The soldiers sought fresh supplies in


damaged warehouses and dressing stations which were still intact. Undergarments were torn up


and used as bandages, but wounds received in fighting were increasingly left unbandaged.


The worst hardship borne by the fortress defenders, however, was thirst. The enemy had


bombarded the fortress with incendiary bombs, dropped on defenders petrol-filled barrels, and


used shells that splattered burning liquids when they explod­ed. Some parts of the fortress were a


solid sea of fire. Every­thing that could burn, did burn. The fires continued unabated in various


spots. The hot summer air was even more unbearably hot and, together with the thick smoke and


the dust from shat­tered bricks hanging constantly in clouds over the ruins, it made the people


inside the fortress unbearably thirsty. There was no water, though, with which to quench their




The water-tower located above the Terespol Gate was de­stroyed and the water supply system


was damaged at many spots. There were no emergency reserves of water in the for­tress, nor


were there any wells inside it. True, the Mukhavets flowed only a few meters from its walls, but it


was impossible to obtain water from it. The enemy installed machine-gunners in the bushes along


the riverbanks who opened fire at anyone who ventured to reach the river. Anyone who attempted


to reach the river by day or night was immediately shot down. There were attempts to dig wells in


the casemates, and sheets attached to ropes were thrown into the river, then pulled back, and the


dirty water was wrung out of them into mess-tins; people even put damp sand into their mouths.


None of this, though, could replace a single drop of ordinary water.


The Fighting Near the Terespol Gate. The road running along the bank of the left-hand branch of


the Mukhavets River and outside of the fortress turns around the barracks. Until June 22, 1941


this building encircled the Central Island in a two-kilometer ring. During the siege, this ring was


broken in many spots. Only 860 meters of the circular barracks remain today.


One sector remaining in the south-west part of the Central Island was relatively quiet during the


siege. Exactly how quiet and undisturbed it was can be seen from the wall facing the river. Its


surface is scarred by bullet-holes and shell-splinters. Af­ter the wall is an open space which looks


as if nothing had even been there. This spot was previously occupied by part of a building


destroyed by artillery fire.


This branch of the Mukhavets, a narrow and insignificant water barrier from the military point of


view - a few strokes of the oar are enough to cross it - turned out to be very difficult for the enemy


to cross as they attempted to force it in the course of their advance. The fortress defenders


stopped any attempts to cross it with heavy, well-aimed gunfire. The enemy infantry units then


tried to cross the river's bridges.



The Citadel's Terespol Gate is located at the spot where the Mukhavets River flows into the Bug


River. Once there used to be a 3-storey structure with small turrets above the gate. In­side there


were two enormous water tanks which allowed it to function as a watertower of sorts. After the


siege only the first floor and fragments of the second were left. The rest was gone al­together,


turned to rubble and dust.


Two large two-storied buildings one behind the other, cut­ting across the courtyard, stood near the


Terespol Gate. One of them housed the 9th Frontier-Guard Station and the comman­dant's office,


while the other served as the barracks of the 333rd Rifle Regiment. When the war broke out,


there were very few men here, as in the other units, and many officers and men died at the outset


of the attack. Alexander Sanin, appoint­ed assistant chief of staff of the 333rd Rifle Regiment only


one week before the outbreak of war, recalled the terrible first few moments in these words:


"A deafening roar shook our barrack walls. My cot stood by the wall, and this saved me because


a heavy bomb hit the roof of the building and went straight through to the first floor, so that


everyone in the room was buried under a load of bricks and rubble. The fire, deafening


explosions, collapsing walls, dust and smoke at first made it impossible to grasp what was




Bombs and shells rained down on the 9th Frontier-Guard Station. Ceilings collapsed in many of


its rooms. The guards who were not killed helped their comrades and carried out the wounded.


The enemy hastened to exploit the advantages of their sud­den attack. The explosions had hardly


stopped when German infantrymen stormed the Terespol Gate. They were met with gunfire from


the windows, embrasures, and basements. Head­ed by Lieutenant Andrei Kizhevatov, head of the


9th Frontier-Guard Station, the frontier-guards fought the enemy in hand-to-hand combat.


Soldiers of the 333rd Regiment, led by Lieu­tenant Alexander Potapov, their assistant chief of


staff, soon came to their aid.


A fighting group made up of officers and men from different units took shape in the first few


minutes of the war at the Tere­spol Gate to defend this tactical defense position in this sector of


the fortress, as happened at other defensive positions, too.


The Kholm Gate. The First Counter-Attack. We should approach the Kholm Gate - a distinctive


symbol of today's for­tress - from the Terespol Gate, crossing the Citadel's inner courtyard, and


going along the remaining part of the circular barracks. When this gate was built it was decorated


with fanci­ful little turrets and a medallion. They are still there - the little turrets and the medallion –


but they have been disfigured for­ever. All the red bricks in the Kholm Gate are scarred by bullets


and shells and blackened by smoke.


The enemy's surprise attack and their numerical superiority enabled a group of enemy


submachine-gunners to penetrate the Terespol Gate on the morning of June 22, make their way


to the center of the Citadel, and occupy the regimental club building, which dominated the entire


Citadel, rising above all the other buildings. The submachine-gunners set up a radio transmitter


inside the club to guide the gunfire of their artillery units and began to shell the barracks from the


rear, dispersing the garrison's units. In addition, some of the enemy submachine-gunners began


to move towards the Kholm and Brest Gates from inside, with the aim of fully taking over the


center of the fortress. Decisive measures were needed, and they were taken by the commissar of


the 84th Rifle Regiment, Yefim Fomin.


This regiment occupied the barracks on both sides of the Kholm Gate. Most of its troops and their


commanding officer and chief of staff were outside the fortress. Only two artillery companies, a


company of mortar-gunners and a transport company, plus an anti-aircraft unit, military band,


medical and veterinary service workers were left in the barracks on the night of June 22.


When the fortress was hit by enemy bombs and shells, Fo­min took command. The first confusion


was quickly overcome, the soldiers were armed and grouped together in the safety of the


basement, from where they launched their first bayonet at­tack. They took the enemy by surprise


and struck at the middle of an advancing enemy group, splitting it in two. Men from other units


supported the counter-attack. Some of the German submachine-gunners ran back to the club


building and towards the Terespol Gate, while another, larger group retreated in the direction of


the island's eastern shore, hoping to cross the Mukhavets. However, the attacking Soviet troops


defeat the enemy group. This was the first counter-attack struck at the German assault groups.


Inside the Kholm Gate there is a bronze plaque in the form of a calendar page, reading: "June 22,


1941. At dawn a group of soldiers from the 84th Rifle Regiment launched a counter-at­tack which


destroyed the enemy assault detachment. "


All day long on June 22 the enemy made numerous at­tempts to penetrate the Citadel by crossing


the bridge leading to the Kholm Gate. However, Fomin organized a clear defense plan for this


gate. Wave after wave of enemy assault troops tried to cross the bridge, but were met by gunfire


from the 84th Regiment and fell on the bridge or on the riverbanks. Enemy troops opened fire


again and again, peppered the walls beside the Kholm Gate with bullet and shell holes - not a


single un-scarred spot remains today. The mutilated walls tell us how fierce the fighting was here.


The garrison's stubborn resistance brought the German Army units to a halt.


The victory won at dawn in eliminating the group of subma­chine-gunners who had forced


their way into the fortress gave a fresh impetus to the Citadel's defenders. The regimental


commissar, Fomin, set up his command post next to the Engi­neering Headquarters building in


the very middle of the Cita­del's courtyard - its ruins can be seen from the Kholm Gate -and tried


to establish radio contact with divisional headquar­ters. No one responded to the fortress' calls.


Then Fomin broadcast an open text, saying: "This is the fortress. This is the fortress. We are


fighting..." The radio station continued to broadcast this message until it ran out of power.


The ruins of the Engineering Headquarters, standing slight­ly above ground level, are carefully


preserved today.


Several times during the day of June 23 nazi loudspeakers unsuccessfully urged the


defenders of the fortress to surren­der. Enemy artillery ringed the fortress, constantly firing on the


Citadel, and nazi planes raided it.


Commissar Fomin organized an attack by the soldiers of the 84th and 333rd Regiments on


the club building occupied by the enemy submachine-gunners with their radio transmitter. This


two-pronged attack was a success and the enemy soldiers were forced out of the building. The


battle for the building con­tinued, nonetheless.


Let us take a look at this building, which was so important for the fortress' defenders and


enemies, and which gave rise to so much fierce, bloody fighting. As a result of the battle, the


building lost its roof and part of the second floor, and suffered greatly from fire. The soot from the


fires settled so deeply into the bricks that even today they look charred, as if the fire were put out


only an hour ago.


On the afternoon of June 23, the men of the 44th Regiment saw a man wearing a Soviet


officer uniform, decorated with an Order of the Red Star, running through the nazi-held territory


towards the right-hand branch of the Mukhavets. A moment later he threw himself into the river,


swam across under sub­machine-gun fire, and arrived safely at the fortress barracks. He was


Senior Lieutenant Vasily Bytko, head of the regimental school. At the very onset of the fighting,


he had led part of the cadets out of the fortress to an assigned assembly point in case of attack,


and now he had returned for those who remained be­hind in the fortress. Bytko led the sector


defended by the 44th Regiment: he assigned soldiers to man the windows and gun-slits and


explained to them how they should change their firing positions; he set up communication links


with neighboring sectors and with defense headquarters. Later, Bytko and Sen­ior Lieutenant


Alexander Semenenko, the assistant chief of staff of the 44th Regiment, capably and


courageously com­manded fighting in the north-west defense sector.


The Brest Gate. The Focus of Fighting. It is not far from the club building to the right branch


of the Mukhavets. Lying before us is the bank towards which Vasily Bytko swam under

submachine-gun fire. Today there are no buildings there. The long north-west wing of the ring-


shaped barracks (almost 600 meters in length) was destroyed and the ashes and rubble blown


away by the wind.


A grave danger for the Citadel's defenders arose here. Ene­my submachine-gunners made their


way across the earth-­works and occupied the north bank of the Mukhavets River on both sides of


the bridge by the triple-arched Brest Gate of the Citadel. They made several attempts to ford the


Mukhavets and establish a position on the north-east edge of the Central Is­land. All their attempts


were futile (fell in oblivion). The soldiers of the 455th Rifle Regiment and the 33rd Engineering


Regiment, both of which had barracks by the Brest Gate, drove off the enemy with bayonet


attacks. Defense in this sector was commanded by Senior Lieutenant Nikolai Shcherbakov,


Lieutenant Anatoly Vinogradov, and Political Instructor Pyotr Koshkarov.


Two panzers headed for the bridge from the north by way of the Kobrin Fortification. The


Soviet troops cut off the enemy infantry with gunfire, but the tanks crossed the bridge and


broke into the fortress' central courtyard. One tank kept up a steady stream of fire on the


barracks. A senior lieutenant and a sergeant-major whose names we do not know ran out


of the basement, quickly making their way to the regimental artillery depot and, in spite of


fire, aimed an anti-tank gun at the panzer. Its gunsight turned out to be broken, and so the


ser­geant-major took aim through the gun-barrel. The first shell hit the ground near the


tank's tracks, and the second wedged up its turret. The next two shells destroyed the




Let us walk over to the bridge joining the banks of the right branch of the Mukhavets River. The


main force of the Citadel's defenders fought here, by the Brest Gate. The gate itself with its triple


arches and powerful columns has not been preserved, for it was destroyed during the fighting.


On the morning of June 24 the enemy intensified its attack on the Citadel and brought reserve


troops into the fight­ing. A fierce, stubborn battle began at the Brest Gate. Regimen­tal Commissar


Yefim Fomin transferred his command post to this area. It was here that he came across Captain


Ivan Zubachov, assistant commander of the 44th Rifle Regiment, and who was commanding the


defense in the Citadel's northwest sector. Fomin and Zubachov decided to create immediately a


joint command for the defense of the Central Island. That after­noon, during an especially


prolonged air-raid, when the Ger­man infantry usually ceased their attack, Zubachov and Fomin


called a meeting of commanding officers and political staff in a casemate in the barracks near the


Brest Gate. A directive (order of the day) was adopted as a result of the meeting that became a


historical document. This is how it began:


"Directive No. 1, June 24, 1941, the Fortress. The situation which has arisen in the fortress


requires creation of a joint com­mand and organized military action to continue the struggle


against the enemy..." The Directive went on to say that the officers at the meeting had decided to


place all their individual units into one large, joint-fighting force. Cap­tain Zubachov was appointed


commanding officer of the force, Commissar Fomin was appointed his assistant, and Senior


Lieutenant Semenenko was appointed chief of staff.



After three days of fighting, Joachim von Ribbentrop, the nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs, held a


press conference in Ber­lin to announce that Russian resistance along the border had been


broken. However, it was on this very day that a joint com­mand was created for the besieged


garrison at the Brest For­tress. The Citadel's defense acquired a more organized, well-conceived


character. Even though the commanding officers of the joint force did not manage to unify the


defense throughout the fortress - the fighting became more and more intense, and the enemy's


onslaught became more fierce, which caused the situation to be constantly fluid, and with it the


disposition of the fighting defense units - nonetheless, the creation of a head­quarters staff and the


Directive played a major role in the de­fense of the Citadel, strengthening it, and making it both


more stable and more flexible.


Now we shall take a look at the ruins of the circular barracks by the bridge. There is a bronze


calendar-page plaque on the wall reading: "June 24, 1941. A meeting of commanding officers


and political officers was held in the basement of this building and Directive No. 1 adopted,


creating a joint leadership for the defense of the Fortress."


When it became clear that the front had moved far east­wards and no help could be expected, the


commanding officers of the Citadel decided to form a large force to break out of the fortress. If


this attempt succeeded. Captain Zubachov was to then lead out the main contingent of the


besieged troops in the Citadel after the first group. At noon on June 26 an advance unit of 120


men rushed out of the Brest Gate in the direction of the bridge. Machine-gunners covered the


attacking troops with fire. Only a few small groups, however, succeeded in fight­ing their way


through the solid ring of enemy troops, and at a great loss in human life.


There is a small section of a brick wall left where the Brest gate once stood, and where the


small group of soldiers tried to break out of the fortress by running in the face of submachine-gun


fire beneath the arches and past the columns. There is an­other bronze plaque reading: "June


26,1941. A group of Red Army officers and men broke out of the fortress at this site on orders


from the commanders of the joint force. "


Another group of soldiers defending the Terespol Gate and what was left of the barracks of


the 333rd Regiment also de­cided to break out somewhat later after a week of fierce fight­ing. The


leaders of the defense in this sector, Kizhevatov and Potapov, decided to leave across the bridge


at the Terespol Fortification, then cross the Bug River, get through to Volhyn Fortification, and


from there make their way towards the milita­ry compound in the southern part of Brest. They


were counting on the enemy's expectation of an attempt to break out of the fortress northwards or


eastwards, but not at the Terespol Gate. Lieutenant Potapov led a detachment of soldiers in the


break­out attempt, and Kizhevatov commanded the group to provide them with covering fire.


Kizhevatov himself lay down behind a big gun to help cover Potapov's group. The attempt did not


succeed, however, and the attackers suffered heavy losses. Af­ter this, no further such attempts


were made.


On June 27, the enemy began to use 540-millimetre guns, which fired shells weighing 1.25


tons, and 600-millimetre guns, which bombarded the Citadel walls with concrete-pierc­ing shells


weighing over 2 tons. The situation inside the for­tress became even more grave.


As mentioned earlier, the war had caught women and children inside the fortress. The women


cared for the wounded, loaded the machine-gun discs and belts with cartridges, and even took up


rifles to help defend the fortress from enemy at­tacks. Children who had only a few days before


been at school helped bring ammunition and food supplies from half-de­stroyed supply depots,


searched for and brought weapons, and watched enemy movements.


Regardless of the defenders' stubborn resistance inside the fortress, the enemy with its


outnumbering forces grad­ually gained the upper hand. The defenders were short of ammunition.


What they had found in the supply stores was quickly running out. They now had to risk their lives


to remove ammunition from burning supply depots. The defenders began to make more frequent


use of German weapons seized in skir­mishes or picked up on the field of battle. Food and water


sup­plies ran out.


"I remember as if it were yesterday how I went down into the basement to the wounded,


women, and children, and a boy of about six came up to me. He pulled at my trousers and


begged, 'Water, water, please'. His lips were cracked and bleeding from thirst, and all around him


were children just as dirty, tormented, and hungry as he. My heart couldn't stand it and I walked


out of the basement, hardly aware of what I was doing. All night long we searched for water, but


we couldn't get enough for everyone" (from the recollections of Pyotr Koshkarov). It was


impossible to leave women and children in the for­tress in these conditions, and so they were sent


out under a white flag.


Let us return to the Brest Gate's former site. In the last days of June, the enemy began to


direct its main blows towards this point, where the main force of the besieged garrison under


command of Zubachov and Fomin was located. The enemy submachine-gunners succeeded


several times in occupying part of the barracks adjacent to the Brest Gate. Each time, how­ever,


the defenders drove out the invaders in hand-to-hand combat. Then an attack was mounted by


German submachine-gunners and demolition squads who, during the attack, crawled across the


barrack rooftops and attics, dropping po­werful charges down the chimneys which exploded,


causing the walls and ceilings to collapse on the fighting men inside. Fyodor Isayev, the


headquarters clerk of the 84th Rifle Regi­ment who concealed the regimental banner on his chest,


died in the explosion. Fyodor Ryabov, a cook, was also hit in the hand, but he would not stop


fighting. Somewhat later Ryabov received another, more serious wound in a hand-to-hand com­


bat. His friends carried him down into the basement, where the wounded were being cared for.


When enemy submachine-gunners broke into the basement, Ryabov threw a grenade into their


midst with his last burst of energy.


On June 29, the enemy again delivered an ultimatum to the fortress' defenders: the besieged


troops would have to surren­der or else the fortress would be totally destroyed. One hour was


given them to reach a decision. (How many hours were given at different times to decide the


same question!) Time ran out but the Citadel did not raise the white flag.


A massive assault on the Citadel was then begun. Dozens of bombers circled over the fortress


and showered powerful bombs onto it. These explosions caused cracks as deep as those caused


by earthquakes to appear even in buildings in the city. Inside the fortress itself walls, two-meters


thick, crumbled, age-old trees were uprooted and blown up into the air, and bricks and metal


melted. Enemy tanks penetrated the Citadel's courtyard and fired continuously at the gun-slits,


win­dows, and walls of the buildings still standing. German assault troops succeeded in occupying


several rooms in the south-east sector of the circular barracks building. Fierce fighting broke out


by the club building. Engineering Headquarters, and the Brest Gate.


The assault continued on June 30. The major group de­fending the fortress was gradually being


destroyed and broken up, and the defense headquarters was smashed.


Let us look once again at the ruins of the barracks building beside the bridge leading over the


right branch of the Mukhavets. A wall in one wing of this building collapsed from an ex­ploding


enemy shell and buried Isayev, the clerk, with the ban­ner hidden on his chest. Ryabov, the cook,


also died in one of the basement rooms. It was somewhere in this building, too, that the wounded


and exhausted commanding officers of the joint force. Captain Zubachov and Commissar Fomin,


were tak­en captive after the general assault.


The bricks had still not cooled from battle when enemy sol­diers brought Commissar Fomin


outside the fortress and stood him with his back to the wall. The last thing the commissar saw


before he was shot on June 30 by the Citadel's Kholm Gate was the quiet river, overgrown by


willow bushes. A bronze plaque, marking the date, bears testimony to this. Captain Zubachov


died in a nazi concentration camp at Hammelburg in 1944.

The Last Defenders Continue to Fight. After fierce con­tinuous fighting the enemy troops occupied

most of the for­tress. But the fighting went on, even though instead of a joint defense there were

now only isolated centers of resistance -which nonetheless fought on even more stubbornly and

fero­ciously. The detachment defending the White  Palace - a build­ing guarding the route to the

Central Island from one fork of the Mukhavets - continued to fight. Lieutenant Arkady Nagai led

this group. The troops defending the White Palace prevented the enemy from entering the Citadel

from the eastern part of the Kobrin Fortification for a long time. They guarded the bridge, half a

kilometer east of the fork of the Mukhavets, with rifle and cannon fire and coordinated their

actions with other defense groups. During the general assault on the fortress, a large bomb

dropped from a plane hit the White Palace and ex­ploded inside the building. The roof collapsed

and the building was almost totally destroyed, killing many of its defenders. But the soldiers who

remained alive carried on fighting. Senior Ser­geant Kuvalin and his assistant, Volkov, changed

their position four times as they beat off enemy attacks with their heavy ma­chine-gun. They only

stopped firing after a mine scored a direct hit on their gun.


We can see the remains of the White Palace today directly to the inside right of the entrance to


the Central Island. The bombs, shells, and mines not only pitted and shattered the walls, but also


turned the building's basement rooms into ruins. The vaults of the basement ceilings also


collapsed and today the sun's rays shine through into rooms that had never seen sun before.


Nevertheless, it is unpleasantly cold down there.


We can go downstairs and walk around from room to room to examine the walls and stones


which heard the roar of explo­sions, the crackle of rifle fire, and the thunder of the heavy ma­chine-


gun. A miraculously preserved portion of a wall bears a bronze calendar plaque saying: "July 1,


1941. The fortress' de­fenders fought on in the White Palace, an important defense po­sition for the




In July soldiers continued fighting from the western sector of the 333rd Regiment's circular


barracks and from the base­ments. The enemy used the most merciless means at his dispo­sal to


put an end to resistance here. General Schlieper, com­manding officer of the German 45th


Division, wrote in one of his reports: "The 81st Combat Engineers' Battalion was given the task of


blowing up this building on the Central Island ... in order to put an end to the Russian troops'


flanking fire at the North Island. Explosives were lowered from the roof of the building towards the


windows, then the fuses were lit. When they exploded, we could hear the Russian soldiers


screaming and groaning, but they continued to fight." In his book, Rudolph Gschopf writes: "We


only gradually managed to take one de­fensive position after another as a result of stubborn


fighting. The garrison of the so-called "Officers' Corps" on the Central Island only ceased to exist


with the building itself... The resis­tance continued until the walls of the building were destroyed


and razed to the ground by more powerful explosions." Lieu­tenant Kizhevatov, one of the leaders


of this sector's defense, died in the last fighting.


A granite block bears a five-cornered star and a marble plaque with the inscription: "Soviet


frontier-guards led by Lieu­tenant Andrei Kizhevatov heroically fought against German in­vaders


here, in the former building of the 9th Frontier-Guard Sta­tion of the 17th Frontier-Guard


Detachment. The name of And­rei Kizhevatov was given to a new frontier-guard station. "Noth­ing


remains of the old frontier-guard station today.


On July 8, the commanding officers of the 45th Division, which was laying siege to the fortress,


sent a report to their general headquarters that the fortress had fallen. This was not entirely


correct, however. Tiny centers of resistance continued in individual sectors of the Citadel and the


Kobrin Fortification from late June to mid-July. Until the very end of July, however, rifle fire and


short bursts of machine-gun fire continued to ring out from basements and half-destroyed


casemates with small groups of soldiers inside. After that, solitary fighters bravely fought on.


Even though they were starving and covered with wounds, they asked no mercy nor sought to


give themselves up. No one knows when the very last shot was fired in the for­tress, who the last


defenders were, or how they died. In August of 1941, however, a German military magazine


carried a photo­graph on its cover, showing nazi flamethrowers still operating in the Brest