T-34 of the Katukov brigade in the winter of 1941-1942 near Moscow
Soviet tank aces… Lyubushkin Ivan Timofeevich – one of the Soviet tank aces who were not destined to live to see victory. He died in battles with Hitler’s troops in the difficult summer of 1942.
Like many Soviet tank aces, Lyubushkin began the war in June 1941, having distinguished himself during the battles near Moscow as part of the 4th tank brigade of Mikhail Yefimovich Katukov. Katukov’s brigade seriously slowed down the advance of the 4th German Panzer Division from Orel to Mtsensk for almost a week, inflicting serious losses on the enemy. For participation in these battles, Ivan Lyubushkin was nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
The path to the tankmen of Ivan Lyubushkin
Ivan Timofeevich Lyubushkin was born in 1918 in the Tambov province in a small village called Sadovaya. His parents were ordinary poor peasants. In his native village, Ivan Lyubushkin graduated from elementary school, and completed his seven-year school education already in the village of Sergievka. The family of the future war hero did not live well, while having many children, Ivan had two brothers and two sisters. One of his brothers also did not return home from the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War.
According to the recollections of his sister Antonina, in childhood, the future tanker was a modest and shy child, but even then he loved active, active games. He often played war games with the guys, even then dreaming of becoming a real commander someday. At the same time, childhood in those years in the villages was very difficult. Ivan’s mother died early, after which his father married a second time. On some days, it was difficult for children to find what clothes to wear to go to school. But despite all the difficulties, Ivan Lyubushkin received a normal school education by the standards of those years, while he studied well at school and tried to never miss classes, Antonina Timofeevna recalled.
Ivan Timofeevich Lyubushkin
After school, Ivan Lyubushkin moved to work in Tambov, where he conscientiously worked at a brick factory. Later, together with a friend, he moved even further from his home – in Tbilisi, where he worked in the fire department. In 1938 he joined the ranks of the Red Army, linking himself with the armed forces until the end of his life. Ivan Lyubushkin immediately began serving in the tank forces. Even before the start of the war in his native collective farm, he could master the profession of a tractor driver, which influenced the choice of troops. Before the start of the war, Lyubushkin managed to graduate from the school for junior commanders.
In the summer of 1941, Ivan Lyubushkin served in the 15th Panzer Division, which in the spring of the same year was assigned to the 16th Mechanized Corps being formed. On the first day of the war, together with the corps, the division became part of the 12th Army of the Southwestern Front, and was later transferred to the Southern Front. The division received its baptism of fire only in the Berdichev area around 8 July. By mid-August 1941, the division had practically lost all of its materiel and was withdrawn from the front for reorganization.
Fight with Guderian’s tankers near Moscow
Ivan Lyubushkin, an experienced tanker, was quickly included in the 4th Tank Brigade, which was being formed in the Stalingrad region, led by Mikhail Katukov. By September 28, 1941, the new brigade was concentrated near Kubinka, at that time it consisted of 7 KV tanks and 22 T-34 tanks. Here, the brigade was replenished with light BT tanks of all types, which arrived from repairs. At the same time, for the time being, the 3rd tank battalion of the brigade had to be left in Kubinka, since it did not have time to receive the material part.
German tank Pz IV destroyed near Moscow
In early October, the brigade was hastily reoriented to the Orel – Mtsensk highway, along which German troops advanced for several days in an operational void. The main enemy of the Katukovites in this direction was the 4th German Panzer Division from the 2nd Panzer Group of Guderian. In this direction, the Soviet command hastily concentrated reserves in order to stop the enemy’s advance. Together with the enemy’s 4th tank brigade, the 11th tank brigade, the 201st airborne brigade and the 34th NKVD regiment were held back on the way from Orel to Mtsensk.
On October 6, units of the 4th tank brigade detained the Germans near the village of First Voin, in the afternoon a counterattack against the advancing German grouping was carried out by tankers of the 11th tank brigade. Both sides suffered significant losses, while the enemy was unable to advance along the highway that day. The tankers of the 4th Panzer Division were forced to regroup in order to continue their attempts to break through the next days. In the battle with the First Warrior, the crew of Ivan Lyubushkin also distinguished themselves. It is believed that in this battle the T-34 of senior sergeant Lyubushkin knocked out 9 enemy tanks.
Memories of this battle were included in the front-line leaflet, and after the war, in the book “People of the 40s” by Yu. Zhukov. The tank, in which at that time senior sergeant Ivan Lyubushkin was the gunner, was ordered to move to the flank in order to engage in battle with the enemy’s armored vehicles. The crew of his car in this battle also included the commander of a tank platoon, Lieutenant Kukarkin. The first enemy round hit the tank without piercing its armor. A few moments later, Lyubushkin, who was at the guidance devices of his 76-mm cannon, also opened fire. They opened fire on German tanks from a distance of about a kilometer, but quickly enough hit three enemy tanks – one after the other. All crew members supplied shells to the gun. After the defeat of the fourth tank, Lyubushkin saw how the German tankers abandoned the combat vehicle and began to retreat. The gunner asked to load the fragmentation and opened fire again. Around this time, the tank was again hit, this time on the side.
The second shell of the enemy, hitting the T-34, pierced the armor of the tank and wounded the crew members. The gunner-radio operator Duvanov and the driver-mechanic Fedorov were wounded and severely stunned, Lieutenant Kukarkin’s clothes caught fire, Lyubushkin was also slightly wounded. After knocking the flames off his clothes, Kukarkin climbed to help the wounded, while Lyubushkin continued to fire. At that moment, he heard Duvanov screaming that his leg was torn off. After that, Lyubushkin begins to shout to the driver-mechanic Fedorov, who by that time had managed to catch his breath: “Start the engine!” The engine in the T-34 started up, but it quickly became clear that as a result of the hit, the elements of the gearbox and transmission were out of order, the car had only reverse gear. Somehow the tankers were able to retreat in reverse at minimum speed, covering themselves from enemy fire with a heavy KV tank from their brigade. On the spot, they already provided all possible assistance to the radio operator, bandaged him and threw all the accumulated spent cartridges out of the tank.
The crew was already ready to withdraw from the battle in order to start repairing the combat vehicle when Lyubushkin saw several German tanks behind the bushes, which were firing at the Soviet troops. At this moment, Lyubushkin makes a decision: it is necessary to continue the fight. “I could see the German tanks very well,” he later recalled. The tankers again opened fire on the enemy, having achieved a number of effective hits. At the same time, the Germans drew attention to the revived tank, focusing fire on it. Again, the enemy shell tested the strength of the T-34 armor. Although he did not pierce the turret, a large piece of armor broke off from the impact inside, hitting Ivan Lyubushkin’s right leg, which was located on the trigger pedal.
As the tanker later recalled after the battle, the leg instantly lost its sensitivity. Lyubushkin even managed to think: “That’s it, I fought forever, like Duvanov.” But, feeling the numb leg, I quickly realized that there was no blood, the leg was in place. Putting his foot to the side with his hands, he began to press the release pedal with his left foot, but quickly realized that it was inconvenient. After that, Ivan Lyubushkin bent down before each shot, pressing the pedal with his right hand, which was also not very convenient. Already at the end of this skirmish, Lyubushkin set fire to another enemy tank. After leaving the battle, the tankers handed over the wounded radio operator to the orderlies, and the car went for repairs, which took several hours. The mechanics restored mobility, and the tank was again ready for battles with the enemy. For this battle, shown courage and courage, Lyubushkin was nominated for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union on October 10, 1941, with the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star medal.
The last fight of Ivan Lyubushkin
On May 30, 1942, the brigade, in which Lieutenant Ivan Lyubushkin already served, was part of the 1st Tank Corps and was on the Bryansk Front. The unit that distinguished itself in the battles with the Germans near Moscow became the 1st Guards Tank Brigade, many of its fighters and commanders were among the best Soviet tankers, writing their names in history. When on June 28, 1942, German forces went on the offensive, implementing the plan for the summer strategic campaign on the Eastern Front, known as the Blau, the brigade was destined to engage again. Already in the evening of the same day, the Soviet command decided to inflict a counterattack on the flank of the enemy’s attacking groups, attracting for this the tanks of the 1st Tank Corps, which was supposed to attack the enemy from the north from the area of the city of Livny.
Ivan Timofeevich Lyubushkin near his tank
In a battle that took place near the village of Muravsky Shlyakh (today abandoned) near the town of Livny, Oryol region, 24-year-old guard lieutenant Ivan Lyubushkin died along with his tank. A participant in those events, the battalion commander in the 1st Guards Tank Brigade, Soviet tanker-ace Anatoly Raftopullo, recalled that it was an oncoming tank battle, in which the battalion of Alexander Burda participated. At the same time, the Soviet tankers had to turn from the marching column into battle formation already under enemy fire.
From the side, because of the railway along which Soviet tanks were moving, artillery hit them, Hitler’s tanks fired in the forehead, and aviation attacked the positions of the Soviet troops from the air. According to Raftopullo’s recollections, Lyubushkin’s crew managed to deal with one of the enemy’s weapons when a direct bomb hit the tank (with a high degree of probability it could also be a shell). The hit resulted in serious damage to the turret, fire and, most likely, detonation of ammunition. Lyubushkin and the gunner were killed immediately, the radio operator was seriously wounded, only the mechanic driver Safonov remained unharmed, who managed to leave the tank before it was engulfed in flames.
T-34 Lyubushkin burned in front of his fellow soldiers until sunset, while the tankers could not do anything, with anger of powerlessness in their eyes watching what was happening. Later, in the burnt-out thirty-four, only a burnt revolver of the tank commander would be found, everyone who remained in the combat vehicle turned to ashes. In the report on losses, which was submitted by the 1st Guards Tank Brigade, in the column “where he was buried” it is indicated: burned down in a tank. By the time of his death, Lyubushkin officially had 20 destroyed enemy tanks and self-propelled guns, most of which were in the battles near Moscow in the autumn-winter of 1941.
The memory of the hero-tanker was immortalized by his fellow soldiers when, by order of the tank brigade of May 7, 1943, the guard lieutenant Ivan Timofeevich Lyubushkin was forever enlisted in the list of the personnel of his native unit. Later, after the war, streets in the cities of Oryol and Livny will be named after him, as well as the Sergievskaya secondary school in his native Tambov region, where information about his fellow countryman is carefully stored in the local school museum.