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Zhigunov Valeriy
The night without a gunshot

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The demobilisation was supposed to be very soon. The weather was - if we were in Russia - fine. In the day time not hot just warm. And nights were not cold yet. September! The order about demobilisation and recruiting new soldiers was to be issued very soon. The mood was just perfect. Every evening somebody brought different news to the smoking place. Either the order had been expected couple weeks earlier or even it had been issued already but just kept in secret, or as though soldiers, who had been serving in Afghanistan, would be demobilised immediately after the order have been issued. Though everybody understood it would never happen like that but believed to each new Lversion, or at least wanted to believe. One could smell the soon way home in the air, but nobody knew when it would be exactly.

The ordinary PHD (cleaning day) was almost over. We had been cleaning BMD (armoured carrier of paratroopers) during the whole week after five days march Chirigan - Shindand. The armed carriers shined like the cat’s nuts (Russian expression, means very bright and clean). Though why did we clean it all up to such a condition? Anyhow we were expected fresh carriers from the Union, after some military games, (I don’t remember what name of those games either Sheld 81, or West 81). The fresh is not right! New, with no more then 300 or even 150 km. on a speedometer. We got up to 2’000 km. on our old scrap. And we prepared those old armed carriers to be delivered back to the Soviet Union. At exactly that time we received the order to prepare to go to war. Without armoured carriers.

As far as I remember nothing special happened during the preparation. All was as usually. Everyone took his own bullet proof jacket, helmet, paratroopers knapsacks, magazine packs and double ammunition. The only problems was to see very serious faces of platoon officers. It was quite understandable. Not just a simple walk was planned. But it was something special in all of it. So the chief officer began to check out each soldier, it had never happened before, it was enough to go through the check out of platoon officer before. And when, finally, the photo reporter from LRed Star (Soviet Army official newspaper) came and began to make pictures of all of us I understood it was something under it. Either show for the reporter - the battalion is prepared to military action. Or the serious action in reality! It didn’t bring the happy mood. And finally it was known in the battalion - Lor-Kokh! As far as I knew about it the body was shocked with million of nails. But it wasn’t fear. It was just the answer of the body to mobilisation of all inner forces and reserves. Like at the competitions before the start. Muscles are not strengthened yet, relaxed, but are in constant expecting of the brain impulse.

But very soon we got the new order. Two groups (7th and 9th) were supposed to be expecting for new orders, the 8th group immediately after the end of preparation was to be delivered by helicopters to the place. After the end of preparation soldiers were given some time for their own and everybody gathered in smoking place. It was so pleasant to seat calmly with friends and smoke! To recall the past times, life before forces. But now everybody recalls only what happened a year ago.

That time, in November of 80th, our 3rd paratroops battalion was located near Anardar. We got the order to get prepared to assault the Lor-Kokh maintains. We knew that time that the band was located there, which terrorised the citizens of local villages, robbed the truck convoys with civil loads and food, shoot Soviet trucks while they were passing through. There, in mountains, bandits had their own chiefs, which were not reported to anybody, they had rest zone there and even a jail! Looked like a sovereign state! The most important thing was that massive Lor-Kokh had mug shape. The plateau, where the bandits base was located, was surrounded by the sharp rocks. The only way there was very narrow ravine. There wasn’t any point to assault it. It was few kilometres in width only at approaching to rocks and then, for about half a kilometres, was converging up to a few metres and extended for three more kilometres till the plateau. There were three turn on that narrow part of ravine, each of them was zeroing in on sectors for DSHK. Besides many block-posts with Ldukhs armed with Kalashnikov and BUR. Shortly, it was impossible to get there through the ravine. There was only one way out - climb the mountains. But thanks to God, the order was cancelled that time.

And now, sitting at smoke place, we consider our future. The 8th company flew away towards the night. We were still ignorant of what had forced our commanders to get us ready so fast? We used to have few days for preparation before the raid. And few hours to take all staff if we had been in raid. And everybody knew the task. In this particular case everything was absolute secret.

Next day, after lunch, our company was delivered by helicopters to the Lor-Kokh area. The 8th was still there. We are flying: only mountains are seen through bull’s-eyes. No voices inside the helicopter. Only sound of the engine. Everybody thinks only about their own. Probably consider the coming raid. As for me I just imagine that everything will be over in couple months, I’ll go home, hug my mum, dad and sister. I’ll drink very cold water from the well, and will be sleeping on fresh bedclothes. That all will be later and now we are approaching to unknown future.

So we are loosing height. We can see the base of our troops just few kilometres away of mountains. Few tanks, armoured carriers and tents. Well, that’s time to stop dreaming and get back to service. Guys from the 8th company met as. We began to ask them what had happened. As we found out some general (I am not sure but it seems to me the deputy of commander of air forces either Turkistan military region or 40th Army, Khakhalov), had decided to fly over Lor-Kokh and see if it was so unassailable as it had been told about. LMay be it is not like that? But Ldukhs were not stupid, they began to shoot from DSHK on the second circle of flying around. The helicopter with the crew, general and some other officers crashed down inside the mountain range. The second, with shell-holes, came back to Shindand.

Now it is all clear. That’s why they need paratroops battalion here. Subordinates should be responsible for fatal rashness of heads. But we were soldiers, that means we couldn’t discuss orders, we had to fulfil them, whichever they are. We just cannot discuss orders.

Last night the 8th company, being supported by infantry, could manage to reach into the ravine only for 300 metres. But how difficult were those metres! It was known only by those who assaulted it. They destroy some pillboxes and one DSHK. It was destroyed by the AGS-17 (automatic grenade launcher), which crew took it at the closest distance. Thanks to them all bodies of officers were brought out. The task of the 8th company was executed without any lost.

For our 9th group the task was like that: LUnder night cover go to the ravine, get to the bandits base without any noise, killing watchmen on the way. Destroy the base. All is clear. So, we have to execute. New preparation began. We didn’t go to any task like that before. Helmets - remove. They cannot be fixed on the head very right. Can be source of the noise while touching stones. Bullet proof jackets under overall, which were given us before the departure. Paratroops knapsacks - remove. Ammunitions and grenades to pockets. Only in pockets, nobody should take them in scattering. All metal parts of the belt and Kalashnikov gun should be wrapped around with rags, to exclude chance of clicking. Polished white spots to wrap in rags too. A knife and slip-knot (We didn’t have them, they were either broken of lost. Nothing new was given to us). The flask of water - one for 2 - 3 people. Usually a man isn’t thirsty in the night time, but if we stuck there till daylight we will not need any water. That’s why we are going to be there only during a night. If we are late we will not need anything for ever. Well, that is an exiting perspective!

The company was separated on two groups. I, as the deputy of the head of the 1st platoon, was appointed the deputy of the head of the 1st group. The head of the group was the head of our platoon, first lieutenant Khamtsov. The second group was leaded by the politic officer of the company (I don’t remember his surname). It was almost evening and we were allowed to sleep for 2 - 3 hours. But we didn’t have any place to sleep. If we were at the base we could sleep on plank beds. If we were in raid we could sleep on seats of armoured carriers. What we had to sleep on here? There were only stones and burs. Nothing doing, we put a bullet proof jackets on stones, paratroops knapsack under head and fell asleep:

Hours of rest passed by very fast now we are on armoured carriers heading to the ravine. Time by time we saw some fortification works just few metres aside of a road. Why they were built here? What they were going to defend in this area? If they didn’t understand that it would be easy just to go around or just destroy them with tanks. I still cannot understand their tactical intentions. The sun is setting down and our small group, consisted of few armoured carriers, is getting close to the ravine. We fill the air with dust so it seems we don’t go but swim in that endless number of specks of dust, flying out of wheels. No doubt Ldukhs saw us approaching already so they will be ready to meet unbidden guests.

The road leaded us directly to the ravine. We saw a couple of blown up buses and the truck of unknown model. Diligent Afghans rebuilt them into something different, increasing sides and extending a cockpit to all directions. So, on the left side of a driver there was a place for a passenger! We stepped down from carriers and have some smoke. Armoured carriers went back and we began to walk to the ravine without a hurry. We didn’t have to hurry, the sun was still shining. That was what we didn’t need. The 8th paratroopers company began to climb the left mountain ridge, the 8th infantry company the right. Their task was to provide our company with fire support in case of disclosing our presence. But they had to move very carefully not to be disclosed themselves. Infantry soldiers move up slowly and their company moves in line. LGood luck guys! You are our support and we do hope on you. Paratroops almost were not seen while climbing up. They used the mountain way of moving. Platoons were separated on fours, fours on couples. The distance between soldiers in a couple was about 25 metres, the distance between couples - 50 metres. The distance between fours up to 150 metres. In the night time all distances are to be decreased for visual range.

So we got the order to begin movement. The sun set down. The night appeared and I was moving as the head with the radio station R-148 in advanced point. I had a friend coming with me - Givy Chapidze. Nice guy! Cheery fellow. Then we had the group of artillery gunlayers consist of three people headed by a captain. We were walking on the bottom of the ravine which become more and more narrow after each metre. Then it became about two dozens metres in width. We had no conversations. If it was necessary only in a whisper. At last we found what used to be called a helicopter MI-8. The heap of destroyed metal doesn’t look like a combat helicopter.

The aviation had worked here very well before our coming. The think layer of scale was seen on granite. An unexploded air bomb with broken off side was lying about. We saw some pieces of iron, looked like an open safety pin, spilled out of its Lbelly. It must be very effective means on the open space. LBut why it was used here? Dukhs were sitting in caves, they could stay there for few days without needs to go out. They had both food and water there. Well, let’s Lshuravi askar (name for Russian soldiers in Afghan language) bomb, it cannot make any harm. Instead a narrow manhole to a cave - perfect pillbox. And hardly seen on the background of mountains.

That’s it, we couldn’t walk forward. The risen Moon was foully lighting up the way we were supposed to walk. If we walked we would be under the light of that eternal concomitant of loving couples. It means the enemy would definitely disclose us and begin methodical shooting off the clearly visible targets. We couldn’t allow it to happen so we had to sit there, nestle up to each other, waiting the Moon to go further and conceal itself behind the nearest peak. The shadow would cover the lighted place.

We were slinking off like snakes. No one pebble should crunch under feet. If it happened all stopped and were standing motionless. We were walking on their territory and no one sentry post disclosed us yet! The nervous efforts was too high. All just felt the presence of Ldukhs, they were just in few dozens or just metres away. The ravine turned into the very narrow cleft. In some places it was enough to stretch out arms to touch the opposite sides of it. Having walked further we found an interesting place. On all way we had just stones under feet. At that place - ideal faced with masonry rectangle with straight sand surface inside. All that looked exceptionally attractive among the chaos of scattered stones. It was clear, the Ldukhs made it for themselves, obviously not expecting us appeared here. We had a joker in the group who did a ponderable investment in the deal of Socialism building in Afghanistan. He just defecated in the very middle of that splendid area. His investment looked very impressively on the background of cleanness and geometrical proportions.

I had to contact with a commander over the radio time by time, reporting about the situation. Based on roughly calculated way we were supposed to get out of the cleft and find ourselves at a small plateau, which was the place of location of Ldukhs’ base. But the junior scout stopped and then just went back to me. LWhat’s up? Why did you come back? - was my question. We had some prepared signals for the case of different circumstances. If it wasn’t enough so there was something unforeseen ahead. We got an abatis ahead of us. After my report to the commander we got the order to examine it. I and Chapa marked time beneath of the abatis which was about five metres in width and a little more in height. In usual situation it could be child’s play to overcome it. But now it would be crumbled and pealed under feet of sixty people. It could cause a problem for us. Having come back to artillery gunlayers I reported about the situation to the platoon commander. He ordered to stay there and wait until he would stop talking with commanders, located at the base, to issue the decision - either to go forward or withdraw.

We were waiting for 10 minutes already. I wanted to smoke very much. And the complete silence around just deadened the watchfulness. The denouement happened unexpectedly. First we heard a loud voice - somewhere above us, just few dozens metres away! He was replayed by the other and very close to us too! It was Ldukhs changing phrases! I got an impression that they had been sleeping before and now, one of them who woke up first, hearing or just suspecting something just let his comrades know about it. We heard voices from all sides and so clear that it seemed we were in one room. Then we got a shot to our direction - at random. Apparently Ldukhs were not sure if we were there. We got the immediate order to withdraw. LDukhs began to shot beneath more often. They shot at random to beneath not seeing us. We saw some rifle and machine guns flashes in few dozens metres away. We got bullets nailed to soil very close to us. We were just withdrawing and had no possibility to answer. Some of us could not endure it any more and clicked the locks of Kalashnikovs but their friends, who were more experienced, stopped them of shooting. It was difficult when we had enemy very close and couldn’t punish them. DSHK came into that fire symphony. It heavy burst is difficult to confuse with something else.

This very time both companies on opposite mountain ridges marked themselves with guns fire. They shoot just to suppress our steps. We wanted to help guys from the beneath very much. We wanted to kill all dukhs! Then high above the ravine we heard howitzers shells. They were exposed on places indicated by artillery gunlayers. We got enough noise. But we still had bullets nailed into stones around us. They ran into stones with buzzing and whine and broke up with white-red sparks. Apparently Ldukhs felt us beneath.

We had to withdraw by the same way as we had come there. Very calmly, along the rock, the Moon was lighted behind of. And we had to wait the Moon go away to walk through the lighted area. But this time in different positions. I was the rear guard now. Nothing special, we just needed to go away as fast as possible.

Having reached almost the exit from the ravine the commander of the group ordered me to cover the group of miners, placed the antipersonnel mines. We were between the miners and companies, coming down the hills. We head machine guns and rifles shots from the above, where our guys were located just before. The sun was rising and we were seen from the far distance already. I was sitting under a small cornice and smoked. Five metres away of me, around the corner, miners were finishing their work. They placed 48 antipersonnel mines as on a chess-board and two MON-100 (a special mine while exploding throws hundreds pieces of metal in definite direction). Nice idea! The narrow way. Vertical rocks. Dukhs couldn’t avoid this place. Even if they are watching us now they couldn’t pass it without stepping even on one mine. Well, they are clever too. They can just send some sheeps ahead of them to mine cleaning. The weight of sheep is almost equal a weight of a human. Let’s those innocent animals be blown up. But our miners foresaw it too. They installed MONs on the turn. Their metal, not brilliant, thin tension wires were located on the human’s chest level. Sheeps could pass that place alive but dukhs. The fragments will fly to the exact direction.

LWhat the hell are you doing there? Who did you get there?! - the captain of miners screamed. LJust stand there and don’t move! - he goes on. LWho could be there? - I thought and looked out of the rock. LTeply! Sashka Teplov, the commander of the second section of mine platoon, was standing in front of the mined area and had a look as he didn’t understand anything. He just took a nap during a halt and didn’t hear the group had gone away. Apparently the nervous efforts were too high. What should we do. He got mines ahead of him, he could not go around them, vertical rocks on the both sides. And dukhs are shooting in us already. Considering the situation the commander of miners ordered him to walk on mines. We didn’t had any other way that time. The point is that mine are installed in fighting trim during 15 - 20 minutes. On first mines he could, I guess, just few last seconds. On the last a little more. He ran the mined area like a bullet and stopped after the scream of the miner: LStop! MONki! The miner sergeant, having entered on exposed to dukhs shots place, showed him wires. Teply crawled under them like a snake though it was possible just to move on all fours. But it was his fear. When all was done the politic officer, who was with us, began to shoot to dukhs side. We didn’t see anybody there but we began to fire too. Shells were falling down on stones with clanks and that music gave us power and self-confidence. We couldn’t shoot for the whole night and now were unburdening our hearts! The companies were down the hills already and we moved from the ravine to the place where we left our armoured carriers. We all were safe and alive. But Teply having washed the uniform in the evening found double hole from the bullet underarm. Apparently it flew there almost touching body, when we was rising his arm. Now he consider the 8th of September as the second birthday.



1998


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