Interviews:
Aronson,
Alfred

Elsey, George

Kane, Jim

Kennan,
George

Lunghi, Hugh

Roberts, Frank



     
   


Q: Were there orders from above that you were to meet up with the Russians?

A: Well, the orders were that we were to seek out the Russians if we had encountered any opposition from the Germans, we were not to engage them at all. Our mission was to see if there were Russians out there. Because apparently on the radio, they were hearing sounds and voices, and communications that they felt were Russian. But there was a limit, the patrol was told not to go beyond five miles from the River Mulde. On the morning of the 25th when they heard nothing from Katzabol, back at headquarters, they dispatched two more patrols. One patrol was under the command of a Major Craig, and a third patrol was under a Major Sykes. Now, Sykes was the only officer that followed the rules. He didn't go beyond five miles, searched around and came back. Craig was a little more adventuresome, and he also encountered some Russian soldiers, and this was about 4.30 in the afternoon. Katzabol's meeting with the Russians took place at about 11.30 in the morning.

Q: You get to the edge of the river, you see the pontoon bridge, were you aware that this really was a historic moment? Was there any feeling in yourself that this is it?

A: Well, we reckoned we knew they were Russians, they certainly weren't Germans. And, I think there was, to some extent. We we were happy to see and make this link-up, because in our minds, now this certainly meant that the end of the war was imminent, when the two forces joined up, Germany was at its end. So there was that joy to the meeting. But there was also a curiosity, whenever you meet someone strange or whom you haven't met before, you're rather curious about what they're like. Unfortunately we had a very difficult time communicating because very few of them, well, hardly any of them, spoke any English, and - with the exception of the one medic that we had, none of us spoke Russian. But as will happen in those - you start pointing and they would look at our rifles and we'd look at their weapons, and they'd want to try our rifles and we'd try their weapons, and they looked at our jeeps. And an interesting exposť was they announced to us that their jeeps were better than our jeeps. And so we saw one of their jeeps and of course it was the same jeep, the only difference was that the nomenclature on the jeep was all in Russian. It had been part of a lend-lease programme. But the Russians didn't know that. They felt this was a Russian jeep. So they were telling us how much better their jeep was than our jeep. And so there's a great deal of pride in those soldiers. The thing that amazed us was how ill equipped they were really, compared to us. They had their uniforms, a variety of uniforms were worn by this group. They still were using horse drawn wagons, horse drawn cavalry pieces, or I should say artillery pieces. And rather primitive, we felt, in comparison to what we had. And this struck us quite surely, because, we couldn't, couldn't imagine how they could have advanced so well against the might of the Germans with such primitive weaponry, because we just saw the one group. Now, that's not representative of the entire Soviet Army, I'm sure, but still that was a striking feature.

Q: How did this first meeting actually go on for?

A: Well, we actually met with them, well, from the early afternoon of the 25th. We stayed overnight through the 26th, then returned that following day, on the 27th.

Q: Tell me about that first night?

A: Well, the first night was a riot because, you know, we were accustomed that if we entered a town and out of town, we would go and commandeer, if you will, or select several houses and say, well, this is going to be our billets and inform the Germans there that we were going to occupy them and take advantage of the fact that we had a bed to sleep in. The Russians, the one thing that surprised us in this town was that everything in the houses were thrown out in the middle of the street - beds, chinaware - they just threw everything out of the buildings. It looked like a disaster zone. And I still don't understand what was behind their thinking, unless they felt that the floor was more comfortable than a bed, I don't know, but it was, it was really a strange sight to us. But we did occupy a home, and we slept on the floor, because there was no furniture in the house. And the next morning we got up and, of course, initially, I should say, there was a great deal of toasting going on.

Q: Tell me how that started out, etc.

A: Well, the first toast was of course - the vodka came out, and it seemed that every other Russian had either a harmonica or a concertina or some musical instrument. And someone said, well, here's to Comrade Stalin, and then we drank to President Truman, and then we drank a toast to Winston Churchill, and then we drank a toast to each other, and then we drank toasts to everyone else. And of course, you know how the Russian toasts are, it's bottoms up, it isn't just a sip. So many of us were not feeling any pain that first evening, believe me. And the following day, Katzabol came up to me and he said, the officers that we'd met here, we're having a dinner or luncheon, and he said, I think it would be a good idea if you and the other fellows ate with the Russian troops, it would be a good sign of mixing, you know, moulding the two together. So I said, fine. So I told the fellas our lunch was going to be with the Russians, whatever they had. And pretty soon this looked like an antiquated fire engine came up, there's a big kettle on it, steam pouring out of a funnel. And the mess sergeant was a woman. And she had this huge kettle of something. And we all had grabbed dishes from a nearby house, so we had our dishes. We were standing in line. And she ladled out this first serving of food, and it was a big glob of greasy meat and some soup. And it's the first time American soldiers became very, very courteous about handling food. The first guy in line saw it, and he turned around and passed the plate to the fellow behind him, and that kept going. So that first plate kept going back, back, back, and the person at the end of the line was me. So I ended up with that first plate, everyone was being very generous in passing it on. And all eyes - of course, you know, the Russians were very curious to see what our reaction was going to be, and so we had to suffer through it. I still don't know what it was that we ate that day.

Q: What did it taste like?

A: Oh, terrible, it was a greasy soup or stew, something. But, I don't know. They lived off the land, that's another thing the Russians, as opposed to our way. We had supplies, we had rations that we carried with us if the kitchens couldn't, or mess - our mess supplies couldn't come up to us with food, so we always had an adequate supply of K rations or C rations that we could eat. Not so with the Russians, they lived off the land. So wherever they went, a cow, they'd slaughter a cow or a pig or a horse, or whatever, to eat. And that was a big departure from the way we were accustomed to soldiering.