Vasily Yakovlevich Storozhenko, photograph 1978
Soviet tank aces… Vasily Yakovlevich Storozhenko – one of the Soviet tank aces. A master of tank combat, he went through the entire Great Patriotic War, was awarded numerous military orders and medals, and distinguished himself in battles on the Kursk Bulge. On the combat account of Storozhenko, there are at least 29 destroyed enemy tanks. Colleagues of the officer for the battles on the southern face of the Kursk Bulge called him the commander of the iron company.
Life before World War II
Vasily Yakovlevich Storozhenko was born on April 4, 1918 on a small farm Eremin, which today is located on the territory of the Olkhovatsky district of the Voronezh region. The future tanker grew up in a simple Ukrainian peasant family. Having received his education at the Kopanyan rural school, he remained to live and work in the countryside. Before joining the Red Army in 1938, he worked as a tractor driver.
In the armed forces, Vasily Storozhenko followed the standard path for those years. Recruits who could work on a tractor, knew the structure of machines, could drive various vehicles and repair them, most often they were assigned to tank troops. In archival photographs, it can be noted that Vasily Yakovlevich was distinguished by a strong physique, which is also very important in tank forces. Leaving the army in 1938, the young man could not even suspect that this part of his life would take ten years, of which four years will fall on the most terrible war in the history of mankind.
Already in the army, Storozhenko discovered a new skill for himself and his comrades: he perfectly fired from a tank gun. The ability to shoot a cannon, according to the recollections of people who served with Storozhenko, he had phenomenal. Until a certain moment, you do not know what talents fate has awarded you.
Medium tank T-28
Storozhenko served in the 15th Panzer Division, which in the spring of 1941 was transferred to the 16th Mechanized Corps being formed. The division was based on the territory of the Kiev Special Military District, the division headquarters and the 30th tank regiment from its composition were located in the city of Stanislav. Storozhenko served in a tank company of the regiment under the command of the future Hero of the Soviet Union, another famous Soviet tank ace Alexander Fedorovich Burda. At that time, Storozhenko was still a sergeant, a gunner in the T-28 tank of Alexander Burda.
From the border to Moscow
Vasily Yakovlevich Storozhenko has been a participant in the Great Patriotic War since June 22, 1941. Together with his division, he passed the difficult roads of the summer battles and retreats of 1941. We can say that he survived those terrible days thanks to the commander of his tank. Alexander Burda at that time was a career soldier with good training, he served in the army since 1932. The crew of the famous Soviet tanker distinguished himself in the battles on July 14, 1941 near Belilovka. Tankers attacked a German column breaking through in the direction of Bila Tserkva. In this battle, Soviet tankers knocked out a German tank, and also destroyed four vehicles with ammunition and an artillery tractor with a gun.
By the beginning of August, there was practically no material left in the 15th Panzer Division, so it was disbanded on August 14, 1941. The personnel were sent to the rear near Stalingrad, where a new 4th Tank Brigade was being formed. At the same time, the tankers received and mastered the T-34 tanks, which went to them directly from the Stalingrad Tractor Plant. At the end of September, the newly minted unit was concentrated in Kubinka, having 7 KV-1 tanks and 22 T-34 medium tanks. Here the brigade was replenished with BT tanks of various models, including those that had undergone repairs.
The brigade completed the formation process on October 3, 1941 and was sent in the direction of Orel. Here, from October 4 to 11, together with other units of the Red Army, Katukov’s brigade fought heavy battles with the Nazis along the highway from Orel to Mtsensk. Many fighters and commanders of the 4th tank brigade distinguished themselves in the battles near the village of First Voin, among them was Sergeant Vasily Storozhenko. For participation in battles on October 6 and 9 in this direction, he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
The crews of the 1st Guards Tank Brigade are preparing their vehicles for the upcoming battles. Western Front, December 1941
The award list says that during the battle on October 6, 1941 in the area of the village of First Voin, the crew of the Storozhenko tank was assigned a combat mission to reach an unnamed height in the area of the village and strike the advancing German tanks in the flank. During the battle, Storozhenko’s crew destroyed two tanks and one heavy enemy gun with a crew, and the tankers also managed to silence two anti-tank guns. On October 9, in the area of the Ilkovo-Golovlevo settlements, Storozhenko’s crew outflanked and attacked the enemy column, destroying 4 tanks and one gun with a crew.
For the battles near Moscow in the fall of 1941, the 4th Tank Brigade was renamed the 1st Guards Tank Brigade. Tankers of the brigade took part in the Soviet counteroffensive near Moscow. They took part in many operations, until at the end of March 1942, after six months of the hardest continuous fighting on the outskirts of the Soviet capital, the brigade was withdrawn from the front for resupply.
Defensive battles of 1942 and the Battle of Kursk
In the summer of 1942, the 1st Guards Tank Brigade took part in the Voronezh-Voroshilovograd operation, conducting defensive battles with the advancing enemy units. For participation in these battles, Vasily Storozhenko, at that time already a tank and guard commander, junior lieutenant, was re-awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
The hero’s award documents say that on July 23, 1942, tankmen of the 1st Guards Tank Brigade managed to drive a wedge into German positions near the village of Somovo, bypassing the settlement on the right and planning a subsequent attack in the rear of the German units defending the village. During the attack, Soviet tanks came under the bombardment of enemy aircraft, followed by a tank counterattack by the Germans. At the critical moment of the battle, when 8 German tanks entered the Soviet T-34s from the rear, the tank commander of the guard, Junior Lieutenant Vasily Storozhenko, did not flinch and single-handedly attacked the enemy. From the well-aimed fire of the Storozhenko crew, the Germans lost three tanks, the rest decided to retreat to their original positions. In just three days of July battles, the crew of the Storozhenko tank chalked up 4 enemy tanks, 4 artillery pieces, 3 anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, and 3 trucks with ammunition. For these battles, the brigade command presented the junior lieutenant to the Order of Lenin, but in the end he was awarded the second Order of the Red Banner.
Guards Lieutenant Storozhenko especially distinguished himself during the heavy July battles on the southern face of the Kursk Bulge, where the Germans inflicted their main blow, using their best tank units in this direction, including the SS Panzer Corps. By the time the battle began, Storozhenko was serving as the commander of a tank company in the 14th tank regiment of the 1st mechanized brigade from the 3rd mechanized corps. Tankers under the leadership of Vasily Storozhenko entered the battle on July 7, 1943.
On this day, the tankers of the Storozhenko company were in an ambush near the settlements of Lukhanino and Syrtsov on the territory of the Yakovlevsky district of the Belgorod region. In this direction, the Nazis sequentially introduced up to 250 tanks into battle, and tankers of the elite tank-grenadier division “Great Germany” also operated here. In the battles on July 7, the tank company of the guard of Lieutenant Storozhenko, acting from ambushes, using good defensive positions, destroyed 10 enemy tanks. At the same time, Storozhenko personally chalked up two destroyed medium tanks and one burned out medium tank of the enemy. According to the veteran’s recollections, that day, German tankers in the morning without reconnaissance went to the positions of the neighboring 2nd tank company. Seeing this, Storozhenko deployed his tanks and hit the enemy in the flank, fighting off the attack of 36 German tanks by joint efforts.
Both companies fought with the enemy on July 8 and 9, until July 10 they were transferred to the area of the village of Verkhopenye. According to the veteran’s recollections, up to 180 enemy tanks broke through to this area. The Storozhenko company fought with part of this armada, in this battle the tankmen were assisted by artillerymen and Katyusha rocket launchers. By exerting all forces, the numerous attacks of the enemy were contained. As a result, the Germans were forced to change the direction of the main attack from Oboyan to Prokhorovka. Recalling those battles, Storozhenko noted that the July days were clear, but the sky was often simply not visible due to the smoke of conflagrations, burning fields, equipment and settlements. Fighting in Verkhopenye itself took place on the streets of the village. The settlement changed hands several times, but the Nazis did not succeed in advancing in this direction further than the village.
In the battle on July 10, 1943, the Storozhenko crew used up all the ammunition. When the tankers left the battle, the T-34 was hit by a direct hit to the engine. The tankers had to abandon their car, having previously destroyed it. In total, in the battles on the southern face of the Kursk salient, the Storozhenko company repulsed at least 15 enemy attacks, chalked up 35 enemy tanks destroyed and burned. In these difficult July battles, the company commander, who showed unbending stamina and courage, personally disabled 9 enemy tanks. At the same time, Storozhenko’s company in the 1st Tank Army was nicknamed the “iron company” precisely for its withered stamina and courage. The command of the army, as well as the 3rd mechanized corps, set Storozhenko and his tankers as an example to others, and a description of their military exploits also appeared on the pages of front-line newspapers.
By the time the battle near Kursk was over, Storozhenko had already had 29 destroyed and burned enemy tanks, although he himself mentioned 26 disabled vehicles. For courage and courage shown in the July battles, heroism and skillful command of the guard company, Lieutenant Storozhenko was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War of the 1st degree.
Last volleys and peaceful life
In the future, Vasily Yakovlevich Storozhenko took part in the battles for the liberation of Ukraine and Poland. He especially distinguished himself in battles at the very end of December 1943. In the Plyakhov area, Storozhenko’s tankmen with a surprise attack threw back the Nazi troops, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy in manpower and equipment. Tankers reported on the destruction of 35 vehicles and up to 100 enemy soldiers. At the same time, during the attack, it was possible to seize German warehouses with food and clothing. During this battle, Storozhenko’s unit had no losses. For the successes achieved, including for the previous December battles of the guard, Senior Lieutenant Vasily Storozhenko was awarded the Order of Alexander Nevsky, he received the award in February 1944.
The brave Soviet tanker finished the war near Berlin with the rank of guard captain. At that time, he was already the deputy commander of the 64th Guards Tank Brigade for the combat unit. He was often used as an example to other tankers. In March 1945, he was presented to the third Order of the Red Banner for the capture of the village of Labenets, but was ultimately awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, II degree.
To finish the story about this brave Soviet tank ace is worth an amazing story. Vasily met his future wife in the village of Ivnya in the Belgorod region in the summer of 1943, when his unit was preparing for defense before the upcoming grandiose battle. Storozhenko promised Anna Afanasyevna that he would definitely stay alive and return to Ivnya after the war, and he kept his word. During the war years, the brave tanker burned six times in a tank, was wounded several times, but returned from the battlefields to his native places. Storozhenko spent his entire post-war life after his dismissal from the armed forces in Ivna. In this village, for many years he worked as the head of the district department of social security.
Vasily Yakovlevich Storozhenko died on March 10, 1991 at the age of 72, and was buried in the village of Ivnya. At present, the memory of their fellow countryman is carefully preserved in the village. In the local secondary school # 1, a separate exposition in the school’s local history museum is dedicated to the tanker.