Anatoly Raftopullo. From tractor drivers to tank aces

Anatoly Anatolyevich Raftopullo

Soviet tank aces. Anatoly Raftopullo is one of the recognized masters of tank combat and a Hero of the Soviet Union. Unlike many of his comrades in arms, by the time the war began, he was a career soldier who had served in the ranks of the Red Army for more than 10 years and had real combat experience behind him, gained on Lake Hassan and in the war against Finland. Anatoly Raftopullo especially distinguished himself during the battles near Moscow in 1941, where he fought with the enemy as part of the famous Katukov brigade.

The life of Anatoly Raftopullo before the beginning of the army service

Anatoly Anatolyevich Raftopullo was born in the Polish city of Chelme (Holme), which in 1907 was part of the Russian Empire, Russian by nationality, this is exactly how it is written in the award documents, while the name of the future tanker was of Greek origin. This rare surname Anatoly Anatolyevich glorified for many years.

The future tank officer was born on April 5, 1907. Already in 1914, together with his parents, he moved closer to the Black Sea, the family moved to the Crimea, to the Evpatoria region. Little is known about his parents, but by the will of fate, the city dweller ended up in the village and managed to work as a tractor driver. At the same time, the life of the hero was thorny, the civil war, which began in Russia after two consecutive revolutions, walked like a steam roller through the family of our hero, as well as through his childhood. During the civil war, the boy was left an orphan and even was homeless.

Remembering these years, Raftopullo wrote about life at the berths of the Nikolaev port, where, together with his friend, he loved to look at the ships passing by. Then Anatoly’s dream was to become a naval sailor, but he did not get into the Navy, including because of his small stature, which, on the contrary, in a tank, was a very good advantage. Remembering his battalion commander and comrade in arms, Mikhail Katukov later noted: “If you look at him, it seems, we will blow off a small sprout, and already a Hero of the Soviet Union.”

Since 1924, Anatoly worked at the Askania-Nova biosphere reserve in the Kherson province, by that time he had also finished his studies at a rural school. The reserve, founded in 1828 and famous at the beginning of the 20th century for breeding Przewalski’s thoroughbred horses, survived the civil war, but was ravaged and burned to the ground during the Nazi occupation, after the end of the war it had to be rebuilt.

In 1926, Anatoly Raftopullo graduated from training courses for tractor drivers and went to work in one of the state farms of the Evpatoria region. Here he worked as a tractor driver until 1929, after which he linked his fate with the armed forces. It is worth noting that Anatoly, like many Soviet citizens, went from driving a tractor to driving a tank. Actually the very phrase “Tractor, lads, this is a tank!” even sounded in the classic Soviet comedy “Tractor Drivers”, which was released in 1939.

Pre-war years and first tests

Already in the film “Tractor Drivers” the heroes are studying a book describing the events near Lake Khasan. Our hero was also a participant in these battles with the Japanese. Having started military service in 1929 in the 9th Cavalry Division, Anatoly quickly built his military career, which predictably led him to tanks. People with experience in working on technology have always been needed in this branch of the army. From 1930 to 1931, Anatoly Raftopullo rose from an assistant platoon commander to a squadron leader in the 54th cavalry regiment of the 9th cavalry division, and from May 1932 he headed an armored squadron in the same division. From April 1934 to September 1935 he served as a tank platoon commander.

Disguised Soviet tanks, Lake Khasan area

In 1937, Anatoly Anatolyevich successfully completed his studies at the Ulyanovsk armored school, after which he was sent for further service in the Far East. Here the officer served in the 23rd mechanized brigade, in which he commanded a reconnaissance company from December 1937. In 1938 he took part in battles with the Japanese at Lake Khasan. For his participation in these battles, Anatoly Raftopullo was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.

Despite participating in battles, in the same 1938 he was unreasonably dismissed from the ranks of the Red Army during large-scale purges of the armed forces. The officer was dismissed from the army on the basis of the decision of the Main Military Council to dismiss officers of certain nationalities from the ranks of the Red Army. Raftopullo was justifiably considered Greek and was also accused of concealing his “true” nationality. The former participant in the battles with the Japanese managed to return to the state farm in the Kherson region, but in April 1939 he recovered in the ranks of the Red Army and led a tank company in the 36th tank brigade, which was stationed in Western Ukraine.

In 1939-1940, together with units of the Red Army, he went through a difficult war with Finland. For participation in battles, he was again awarded the second Order of the Red Banner. In April 1940, after the end of hostilities, Anatoly Raftopullo returned to the Kiev Special Military District, where he led a battalion of medium tanks as part of the 30th tank regiment of the 15th tank division. As part of his battalion, he took part in a six-day operation to annex Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia in the summer of 1940.

On the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War

By the time the Great Patriotic War began, Captain Anatoly Raftopullo was one of the few officers who had behind him not only a long service in the ranks of the Red Army, but also the real combat experience of two pre-war conflicts. The knowledge, skills and practical experience gained before Germany’s attack on the USSR definitely helped Raftopullo to survive the most difficult year for the army and the country in 1941.

Anatoly Raftopullo, February 1942

By the time the war began, the 15th Panzer Division was part of the 16th Mechanized Corps being formed. The 30th Tank Regiment, in which Anatoly Raftopullo served, was based in the city of Stanislav. The tankers of the division took part in the hostilities only by the end of the first decade of July in the Berdichev area, having previously completed a large number of many kilometers of marches, losing equipment on the roads both for technical reasons and from the actions of enemy aircraft. One of Raftopullo’s memories of these battles was the scene when the tanks of his battalion had to leave the road during the bombing and disperse in the burning fields of wheat.

By July 15, 1941, the Germans had already seriously thinned the 16th mechanized corps. The battles in the Berdichev area cost the Soviet tankers dearly. By July 15, 87 tanks remained in the 15th Panzer Division, and the commander of the 30th Panzer Regiment was killed in the Ruzhany area. By early August, the 15th Panzer Division was withdrawn from the front for reorganization, many of its soldiers and officers escaped death and captivity in the Uman cauldron, where the 16th mechanized corps’s path ended. At the same time, the surviving personnel of the 30th Tank Regiment were sent to form a new 4th Tank Brigade, led by the famous Soviet tank commander Mikhail Efimovich Katukov.

In early October, a freshly formed tank brigade was transferred to the Orel and Mtsensk area. At that time, Anatoly Raftopullo commanded the second battalion of the tank brigade, armed with BT-7 tanks. In the section from Orel to Mtsensk, Katukov’s brigade, together with other Soviet units, significantly slowed down the advance of German tanks by seven days. The main blow in this direction was delivered by the 4th German Panzer Division.

German tanks destroyed in battle

In these October battles on the approaches to Mtsensk, the battalion of Anatoly Raftopullo, whose tankers acted from ambushes and boldly attacked the enemy, especially distinguished themselves. In one of the battles, the battalion of Captain Anatoly Raftopullo knocked out up to 20 enemy tanks, destroyed 8 vehicles with infantry, two light and four heavy artillery pieces. At the same time, in the battle that the battalion fought with the enemy in the area of ​​the village of First Warrior, the Raftopullo tank was knocked out. As a result of the shell hit, the captain burned his face, hand, and his hair. Despite the pain, the officer continued to lead the battle until evening, when the Germans stopped their attacks.

Under the pressure of superior enemy forces, units of the brigade rolled back along the highway from Orel to Mtsensk. In the battle that took place on October 9, 1941, Anatoly Raftopullo again distinguished himself. A battalion located near the village of Ilkovo, armed with BT-7 light tanks, was in ambush, many tanks were dug into the ground. To participate in an open battle with the Germans in tanks with bulletproof armor in those conditions would have been suicide. In the battle on the section from Golovlevo to Ilkovo on the right and left of the highway to Mtsensk, the Germans used a large number of tanks. Captain Raftopullo was responsible for the defense of the left sector. His battalion on BT-7 tanks for eight hours held back the enemy offensive on the left flank of the regiment, preventing the Germans from breaking through the brigade’s positions.

According to the Katukovites, based on the results of these battles on the Ilkovo-Gorelovo line, the enemy lost up to 43 tanks, a large number of anti-tank guns and up to two infantry companies. Such data are contained in the award list for conferring the title of Hero of the Soviet Union to Anatoly Raftopullo. The award list describes both battles, but the battle at Ilkovo stands out, in which Raftopullo personally chalked up one destroyed enemy tank and one anti-tank gun. During the battle, the captain was seriously wounded in the shoulder. Despite the injury, the officer did not leave the battlefield. Raftopullo allowed himself to be taken from positions to the medical unit only after a direct order from the brigade commander, which Katukov himself later recalled. Already in the rear, Raftopullo lost consciousness from a large loss of blood and was evacuated to a front-line hospital; he learned about the award of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union while already being treated.

Attack of the tankers of the Katukov brigade

Second injury and a peaceful life

After being cured in the hospital, Captain Raftopullo returned to his unit, which was renamed the 1st Guards Tank Brigade during the battles near Orel and Mtsensk. In one of the battles in the Rzhev area on February 21, 1942, Anatoly Raftopullo was again seriously wounded. After completing treatment in the hospital, the officer was promoted to major and appointed to the post of assistant chief of the combat training department of the armored forces of the Stalingrad Front headquarters.

The further service of an officer with rich combat experience and extensive experience in the armed forces was associated with the training of new tankers and the transfer of their valuable knowledge, skills and abilities to them. The remaining period of the war, Raftopullo served as the commander of a battalion of cadets of the Ulyanovsk Guards Tank School, which he himself graduated from many years ago. In total, during the period of participation in the battles of the Great Patriotic War, the tank crew of Anatoly Raftopullo knocked out and destroyed up to 20 enemy tanks and self-propelled guns, Mikhail Baryatinsky cites such a figure in his book “Soviet Tank Aces”.

Anatoly Raftopullo, 1967

In 1945, when the battles of the Great Patriotic War had already died down, Anatoly Anatolyevich Raftopullo successfully completed his studies at the Higher Officer Armored School. He rose to the rank of colonel and retired in 1955, having worked for a long time at the Kiev Tank Technical School. After his dismissal from the ranks of the armed forces, he lived in Kiev, while becoming an honorary citizen of the city of Mtsensk.

The famous Soviet tank commander passed away on April 21, 1985 at the age of 78, and was buried in the capital of Ukraine at the Lukyanovskoye military cemetery.

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