Approach to the Reichstag

Great Victory has several symbols. Before you one of them. A photograph of this girl, who in May 1945 regulated the movement of military equipment in Berlin on Alexanderplatz, near the Reichstag, spread all over the world.

TASS war correspondent Yevgeny Khaldey snapped the Leiki shutter, and the corporal of the 87th separate road maintenance battalion Maria Shalneva (Nenakhova) went down in history, became a symbol of Victory.

The picture hit not only on the pages of national newspapers, but also in many of the world’s photo albums devoted to the Second World War, as well as to textbooks.

Victor Mironovich, her daughter, the aircraft manufacturer Lyudmila Mironovna, and the son, dean of the geological department of the Voronezh State University, told Professor MK about the heroic front way of their mother and her post-war life.

“Due to injury until April 43, I did not take off my hat”

“My mother is from the village, she was born in the village of Sredny Lukavka of the Gryazinsky district, then in the Voronezh region,” says the daughter of Maria Shalneva, Lyudmila. – When the war began, she was only 17. The village was empty, all men born in 1914 inclusive were taken to the front. Mom worked on the farm. When, in 1942, a distribution list came to the village council to send four girls to the military registration and enlistment office for mobilization into the army, who were more likely to hide, to avoid an agenda. And my mother was very conscientious, responsible, thought: if she was called to serve, it means that the front needs her.

Messages Sovinformburo were alarming. The Germans occupied the Donbass, rushed to the Volga, planned to seize Stalingrad and Astrakhan.

– Mom and her friends walked east on foot. In Borisoglebsk, they found out that the 87th separate road maintenance battalion was waiting for them. He was part of the 62nd Army, commanded by General Chuikov. Mom recalled how a combat commander with one sleeper in his buttonhole said that the army was leading heroic battles in Stalingrad, their task was to ensure the non-stop movement of military equipment, ammunition and military units to the front.

Yesterday schoolgirl Masha became Red Army man Shalneva.

– Mom told me that, wearing a uniform, they immediately became almost indistinguishable from each other. The shoes were issued in the 43rd size, others were not found by the foreman. Already on the second day began classes. They studied the drill regulations, mastered the rifle and machine gun. Mom taught military affairs at school. By the time she already knew how to shoot well.

Before the duty, the company commander gave a briefing: do not check the cars following the front line, do not check, and those that come from the front – inspect. They could be deserters, spies and saboteurs. At the first request, the driver was obliged to present a waybill indicating the route and the presence of the transported cargo. If the car seemed suspicious, it was necessary to press the alarm button. Signals were transmitted to the next command post and to the company guard detachment.

Under Khoprom, Masha Shalneva was wounded.

– Their reserve regiment was then located in the station area. German aviation flew and began to bomb the way, ”says Viktor Mironovich Nenakhov. – Mom and her friends rushed to the nearest forest. One of the bombs landed in a tree, its fragments hit her in the head. My mother spent two weeks in the hospital, she was operated on. Returning to her unit, at first she was shy of her shorn head. Until April 43, she tried not to take off her earflap. For the whole life my mother had a scar. After the war, she covered her hair all the time.

Blood, sweat, pain, tears – all Maria Shalneva got into the war with a vengeance. Girls regulators indicated the direction of movement of the army and military goods to various “farms” – so called large military units. It used to put logs under the wheels of cars in the mudslide. We had to listen to the drivers and curses when they tried to put the wounded into their cabins.

– Mom recalled that the rain poured over them, and the snow was prickly in the face. Weather, bad weather, day, night – stay on duty, – says Lyudmila Mironovna. “From the windings issued along with the boots, long elastic knitted ribbons, they sewed their own warm stockings. They began to watch on duty in the bombed cities, in the forest, and in the bare steppe, where wolves and feral dogs roamed nearby. They had to spend the night on the stoves left from the houses or, at best, in the cellars. That first army autumn taught her a lot: fear, of course, did not disappear at all, but she stopped desperately to be afraid for every reason.

The front-level controllers, directing traffic flows, were spinning in place with a top, it was not for nothing that the troops called them “ballerinas”.

During the day, they used yellow and red flags, and in the evening they were armed with tricolor lanterns. According to the standards, the shift was supposed to last four hours, but they had to stand six or eight hours each. Saved cheerfulness and sense of humor. The regulator girls supported each other with jokes.

Once, Maria Shalneva had the opportunity to leave “from the main road.” The battalion commander, Senior Lieutenant Podrezov, offered her the position of storekeeper. It was necessary to take into account the cost-arrival of products. At first the girl was delighted: both warmth and free time appeared. But soon Masha noticed that the boss was cheating, suggested that she “pry” documents with fictitious names, thereby writing off the resulting balances. Corporal Shalneva was indignant: “But we didn’t feed them!” – and refused to sign fictitious papers. Returned back to the regulator.

She did not go on about and the lieutenant from the special department, who invited her to become an informant. They say that the time is alarming, sometimes a person leads innocuous conversations, but dig deeper – the enemy, in a difficult moment you can expect anything from him. Such people need to identify. Maria refused to cooperate, said as she cut off: “I was not accustomed to inform!” Then every time she trembled when meeting with a special person. But there was no repression.

“Ah, the roads are dust and fog…”

From the winter of the 43rd, their separate 87th battalion went only to the west.

– Mom recalled that hundreds of vehicles were heading forward – “gaziki” and ZIS, columns of soldiers, artillery and tank units. Ambulances moved towards the wounded, columns of German prisoners. The road – slush in the fall and spring, dust columns in the summer, snow drifts in the winter. Motors roared nearby, drivers shouted, crazy bullets whistled.

In Ivanovka, their 8th Guards Army was put into echelons and transferred to the combat zone of the First Belorussian Front.

– In the summer of 1944, near Baranavichy, they came under heavy bombing. Aviation raids were not uncommon, their battalion was located, as a rule, fifteen kilometers from the front line. But at that moment a tank column was passing by, the fascists decided to bomb it, ”says Viktor Mironovich. – Mom recalled that the dive “Junkers” had a characteristic howl. One raid followed by another. In the battalion they then had a lot of losses. Mom and her friends were hiding in the craters, ingenuously thinking that the bombs do not fall into one place twice. After those raids, she made sure that they fall, and how.

In Poland, according to the recollections of Maria Shalneva, the Red Army was openly afraid and did not feel much love for people in soldiers’ uniforms. Nobody met them with flowers and bread and salt.

– Mom recalled how their battalion was moved closer to the front line. The best and most reliable means of transportation on muddy, broken roads was a powerful tractor, which pulled a large platform onto which the platoon’s personnel climbed, Ludmila Mironov shares. “Once they were very wet with the controller girls, the headquarters assigned them to spend the night in the Yaman farm to a lonely woman’s house. However, the hostess refused to let them into the house, explaining that she was starting repairs. One of my mother’s friends had to distort the bolt of the machine. Only after that the hostess stepped aside and let the sodden girls into the house.

In July of the 44th, the 8th Guards Army approached the Vistula. Then, at the crossing, the car was lost girlfriend Katya Rodina. When the bombing began, the girl was on duty at the bridge. The blast wave dropped her into the water, and Kate did not know how to swim. Save the girl failed.

“Mama recalled how Nina Yefremova was killed during a German air raid. And at the crossing over the Oder, our tank crushed controller Natasha Sizova. When the bombing began, the crossing was closed. One of the tankers could not stand it, rushed over the bridge and knocked the girl to death. Mom said that this ridiculous death of all of them then greatly shook.

Maria Shalneva herself miraculously survived the crossing of the Vistula. Tanks, artillery and infantry transported to the opposite shore on rafts and ferries. The river raged from the enemy shells and mines. It was a solid buzz and crash. To the continuous shelling of long-range artillery, the attacks of fascist aviation were added. Covered the crossing assault company, which was able to break through the defenses of the Germans and capture a small bridgehead.

“The war did not abolish the senses”

War mowed and maimed people, but she could not kill feelings. Thirst for life took its toll. There was an increased attention to the young regulator girls.

Sweet-looking Masha Shalneva liked many. Senior Lieutenant Vitaly Burtsev fed her an American stew. He came to her post, passed through her friends condensed milk and other canned food.

– Mom remembered that they were hungry with girls all the time. The controllers were fed in the third category – you will not die of hunger, but you will not be fed. And mother almost from the first days of her military service was also a donor. First, after each fence, she felt dizzy, they donated four hundred grams of blood. So canned lieutenant was very useful.

In November of the 44th, Captain Nikolai Zakhvalov began to look after Masha. His road-building battalion was located next door. New, 1945, they met together.

– They became friends with my mother. Nikolai was an officer, an engineer. He began to insist that they get married, but my mother was determined to be categorical: only after the war, says Lyudmila Mironovna. – Then Nicholas was transferred to another part. Later it turned out that he has a child. When part of them was in Ukraine, he slept with a woman, whom he later forgot about. But she persistently sought him out, finally found and told him that Nikolai had a son, he was in his second year. Upon learning of this, my mother stopped responding to his letters.

Meanwhile, in the middle of April 45th, there was a brief lull on the First Belarusian Front. The front was preparing for a decisive assault: Berlin was ahead.

– Mom recalled that it became easier to be on duty on the roads, there were no constant raids of fascist aviation, the flow of refugees, the shelling stopped. They did not spend the night in dugouts and cellars, but in neat houses of German peasants and in city apartments abandoned by their owners.

Columns of vehicles were heading west: it was felt that an offensive was being prepared.

– In the midst of the battles for Berlin, my mother had to donate blood twice during the month. Losses were big, donors were all registered. Once a seriously wounded lieutenant was brought to the field hospital. It was necessary to make him an urgent transfusion. One of the nurses recalled that a battalion was standing nearby, in which there were certainly donors. They sent a messenger – it turned out that all seven donors had only recently donated blood. Mom volunteered to help the dying lieutenant. Then he sought her out, thanked him for her salvation for a long time, even shed a tear at that.

Everyone felt that victory was not far off. On May 2, at 11 am, the official capitulation of the Berlin group of German troops was scheduled.

– In the center of the city, on Alexanderplatz, a large gathering of people was expected – past the defeated Reichstag, the buildings of the Reich Chancellery and the Brandenburg Gate were to be followed by a column of captured Nazis. A post at Alexanderplatz was in the zone of action of my mother’s battalion. She, in accordance with the schedule of duty, was to take up the post from 11 to 13 hours. However, at the order of the headquarters of the mother in the morning went on duty. She was considered the most worthy. In a personal matter, she had some thanks. In addition, during the war years, she donated 12 liters of blood. On that historic day, May 2, the “Willis” stopped near its mother, from which two officers jumped out. One of them was the poet Yevgeny Dolmatovsky, the second – TASS photo correspondent Yevgeny Khaldey. He pulled out a camera, began to photograph his mother. And all the time I asked to smile. Mom really was a very serious woman. So, with the filing of the front-line correspondent, she got into history. The picture was printed in the “Red Star”, and then in other national newspapers.

May 9, celebrated Victory.

– It was a real holiday, the fighters cried with happiness, they were glad that they survived. Mom asked for leave from the battalion commander and went to the Reichstag to sign on its walls. Below all the walls were scribbled. As if on a geographical map, the cities flashed: Moscow, Smolensk, Kaluga, Kiev, Vologda, Kazan, Tashkent… Mom found a free spot and brought out: “M.Shalneva, Voronezh”.

After the victory, the battalion of Maria Shalneva remained in Berlin for a while. Formed an occupational group of troops. The girls on the road on the roads showed the way to military columns. Maria, along with three friends, was housed in an apartment in a house on the outskirts of Berlin.

– The owner of the apartment was a young woman Marina Brock. Her husband was an officer, he died on our front. But she did not have hatred for Russians. Once she invited her mother to the theater. She gave her her dress, silk stockings, shoes and a wide-brimmed hat. Operetta made an indelible impression on my mother. They even went and took pictures with Frau Brock. But then one of his colleagues advised his mother to remove the German woman from the picture. He said that there would be people who would accuse her of having links with the enemy. Mom took the scissors and cut off Marina Brock. But years later she regretted it.

In July forty-fifth, an order for demobilization came. Maria Shalneva took away from the front a letter of thanks signed by Zhukov, the Order of the Patriotic War of the second degree, the medals “For Courage”, “For Military Merit”, “For the liberation of Warsaw”, “For the capture of Berlin”, “For the victory over Germany”.

A neighbor in the train was surprised, looking at the weeping front-line soldier. Survived to the war, chest in medals, and tears flow like a river. And Maria had before her eyes those who were there for three military years, but did not live to see victory.

– The traffic controller died under artillery shelling, from random shots. And one of her mother’s friends, Liza Fursova, died in Berlin from a sniper’s bullet on May 7, 45th.

* * * 

After returning home, Maria Shalneva worked at the Mrazhinsky district financial department. And having come home for the November holidays, I met my fate.

– Papa, Miron Nenakhov, was not at the front. He was engaged in aircraft construction, worked at the Voronezh plant, which was evacuated to Saratov during the war. Father was given a reservation, – says Viktor Mironovich. – In the fall of the 46th, he took leave and came to his native village. In my friend’s house I saw my mother and fell in love! She answered him in return. In July, they played a wedding. A year later, in the 47th, my sister Luda was born, and in 1951 I was born. And soon the parents moved to Voronezh, where they worked at an aircraft factory until the time they retired.

The trophy watches, which one of the sergeants presented to the war and a ladies’ bicycle brought from Germany, were kept for a long time in the house of Maria Shalneva.

– The watch was valuable, belonged to a German general who was killed on the Stalingrad front. When parents began to build a house, they sold them, like a ladies’ bicycle, says Lyudmila Mironovna.

Victory Day was one of the most beloved holidays for Maria Shalneva. On May 9, she met with her fellow workers.

– Mom was a very humble person. I did not feel like a hero, I thought that I was one of many who destroyed fascism.

Bravoy regulrovshchitsy disappeared in 1997.

Now grandchildren walk with a portrait of a grandmother in the “Immortal regiment.” And she has nine grandchildren!

When traveling on business trips in Moscow, Viktor Mironovich Nenakhov meets his eyes… with his mother. She looks at him from the posters. Beautiful, young, infinitely dear, which has become for millions of people one of the symbols of Victory.

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