Narrated: Ruvim Katz, St-Petersburg, Russia
English Translation: Mark Klionsky, webmaster's father, St-Petersburg, Russia
Editing: Janet Niece, Fairfax, VA, USA
Posted on: 18 Feb, 2009
Last Updated on: 4 March, 2009
Narrated by my grandfather Ruvim Katz as a former Red Army young lieutenant stationed in Latvia in the beginning of 1941-1945 war

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Ruvim (Roman) Katz, cadet of the Military College for Communication, 1937
In 1939, Ruvim (Roman) Katz graduated from Military College for Communication in Leningrad. He received a rank of lieutenant and was directed to a battalion of signal service in the town of Torzhok (140 miles north-west of Moscow).

As an excellent graduate, he was appointed to commander of radio platoon and a teacher in the sergeant prep radio school.

After few months, the Soviet Union occupied the Baltic countries, and Ruvim’s battalion ( 500 people) was immediately loaded on a train and directed to Latvian town of Libava (Liepaja now).

Unfortunately, a quiet military life in occupied Latvia was short-lived. It was interrupted on June 22, 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded the USSR.
It is well-known that Stalin completely ignored warnings of the Soviet Intelligence about the forthcoming Germany invasion, so the Red Army was not prepared to retaliate.

The day before war, June 21st, Ruvim’s battalion moved out Libava for a military training, not suspecting that it would have to face different problems the very next day.

Military command, even at the highest levels, displayed complete carelessness as troops in training were prohibited to take cartridges (this was ruitinely done for safety reasons in order to reduce the number of accidents involving accidental shootings and arms handling by military personel.)

On the morning of June 22, Ruvim heard and saw German planes with Nazi Swastika signs on the wings overhead, and in the distance, there was a great glow above Libava’s military airbase.

Eyewitnesses that joined retreating Soviet forces later on reported the burning was caused by “plywood,” a nickname for I-16 Soviet fighter jets since several parts of the aircrafts, including fuselage,  were made out of plywood(!).

These jets, an easy prey to German aviation, were bombed and burned out while still on the ground. And so began the Great Retreat.
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Eastern Front June-Sept of 1941

At that time, the battalion received an order from the Baltic military district staff in Riga to send a detachment with an officer to protect a civilian broadcasting radio station in the town of Kuldiga, near Riga. Ruvim was selected for that mission.
He and 8 soldiers loaded a truck GAZ-AA (replica of Ford – AA truck, circa 1931) and arrived to Kuldiga.

He stayed there for 3 days. However, German forces were quickly approaching and R. Katz received a new order: to disassemble the radio station, load a basic unit of it in the truck, and bring it to Riga.

Later on, it became clear that exporting the radio station turned out to be a useless action.

The disassembling of the radio station was led by a chief engineer of Latvian descent, who hated Soviet aggressors.

He was openly telling Ruvim that “the Germans would not bring them any harm.”
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Truck GAZ-AA ( Russian replica of Ford-AA truck )

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Truck GAZ-AA drives through the crowds of war refugees, 1941
With this in mind, he directed them to load a unit that was not affecting the work of the radio station.

As soon as German troops entered Kuldiga, which happened on July 2nd, this radio station began to broadcast orders of German Army and appeals to the general Latvian population to join a fight against retreating Red Army. 

This all became clear much later, but at that moment, the order was cleared and on June 25, Ruvim’s truck started its way back to Riga (85 miles to the east, 3 hour drive) 

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Ruvim's rout on June 25-26, 1941
The main road was overcrowded by retreating Read Army troops mixed with civilians. Suddenly enemy planes appeared and began to bomb.

One bomb fell near Ruvim’s truck. The truck overturned and soldiers jumped out.
As for Ruvim, his leg was wounded by a fragment of bomb. The other leg was squeezed by the truck, so he could not even crawl out.

When the bombing ended his soldiers and several civilians rushed back to the overturned truck and to help him.

Freed from under the truck, Ruvim, however, could not move by himself and the boot on his wounded leg filled with blood. He remembers feeling incredible pain, and the situation was getting crucial by the minute.
Fortunately, at that time, a Colonel drove by in a car. He picked up the wounded lieutenant and brought him to a military hospital in Pskov, which was far behind the front lines (see map). 

After a week and a half, retreating from German advance, the entire hospital was evacuated to the city of Kazan, near Ural mountains.

In September 1941, after 3 months of medical treatment R. Katz joined army in the field on the Leningrad front.

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Ruvim Katz at the front lines, 1944
As he learned many years later, most of his battalion comrades were killed or taken prisoners.

A commander of the battalion (he held the rank of Captain) was taken prisoner. He was sent to a concentration camp, and during the war, he worked in a quarry.
The Captain survived the war in spite of that horror. In 1964, Ruvim ran into him by accident in Leningrad.

Ruvim Katz fought until the end of war and now he is a military pensioner in a rank of lieutenant-colonel. He recently celebrated his 90th birthday.

January, 2009