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21 Apr, 2010 09:03

“Dice? What on Earth? Your comrades are hardly alive!” - WWII remembered

RT presents War Witness – a special project dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Victory in the Second World War.

World War II veterans recount their stories about the war, its effects and its human perspective.

Valentin Dremlyuk, hydrographer-navigator, second officer from the Arctic convoy, Soviet Union, recalls his military service.

“I turned up in Archangelsk – I served in the famous Arctic convoy, which supported military and naval operations on the Northern Sea Route. We monitored the ice navigation and weather conditions. Then we sent this information across to the military headquarters.”

In 10 days the convoy approached the Novaya Zemlya archipelago and the picture was terrifying there:

“The sea was blazing with fire – the oil from sunken ships had leaked into the sea and it was burning. Shelling, firing, hundreds of sacks with flour were floating in the water – flour doesn’t sink as it turned out. But the worst was to see dozens of sailors in orange rescue vests floating among those flour sacks. We came up closer: those were all dead bodies, because the water was only 5-6 degrees. They immediately died as soon as they got into the water."

“On the coast, the fire was burning, and somebody was shooting up safety flares in the air,” Dremlyuk remembers. “We asked them in Russian: ‘Who are you?’ No reply. Then, in English, and got the reply: ‘We are sailors from the sunken American ship Alpana.’ And the epic work began. We were rescuing the sailors from the convoy Pq-17. The Germans had sunk 23 out of its 30 vessels. There was a lot to rescue and pick ups.”

The Soviet sailors were busy all week long and managed to save 147 American, British and Danish sailors. No other single vessel saved as many people in one week.

“They had a big, red-haired boatswain who said to me – I recall it very well – ‘Well, can we play dice here?’ I replied, ‘Dice? What on Earth? Your comrades, except you, are hardly alive! We are carrying them, putting in cabins, the sick-bay, and you want to play dice?’ And he said, ‘Take this cup as a token for rescuing us.’ It was a small enamel cup. It served as a water ration during a shipwreck. Such a wonderful souvenir I got.”

War veteran and military journalist John Cosgrove recalls that in operations against Japan, US Navy ships had to withstand not only harsh enemy attacks, but nature attacks as well.

”You had storms, you had potential enemy, contact with submarines. We were targets for any submarine and we were actively seeking enemy submarines, the Japanese submarines,” he said. ”Subject to tremendous kamikaze attacks – the kamikazes were horrible enemy.

”At the same time with the kamikazes …we had two major typhoons, and I think that typhoons were almost as horrible and as challenging as any of the kamikazes.”