Military history

Chapter 9

Weapons Maintenance

Looking after firearms at the front line required the utmost care – after all, a fighting man's life depended on it. Machine-gunner Vladimir llyashenko remembers:

We took special care over weapon-cleaning. A rifle, a tommy gun, a machine gun would be polished to a lustre, first with alkali, then with dry rags, and only then would it be greased with oil. A commander would check up before greasing, wipe the barrel with a clean white rag, and if there was a trace of anything on it he would make you clean it again.

Crews of tanks, self-propelled guns and artillery pieces had many difficulties. A T-34 tanker; Nikolay Alexandrov, recalls:

After a march we had to service the machine – to examine the running gear rollers, lubricate them with gun-oil, grease it up. The crewmen did it: gun-loader with the commander would do the gun, the mechanic minded his own business – regulating of the engine, brake shoes, checking the clutch to make sure it worked OK. Tank commanders, platoon commanders, company commanders all worked. The gun-cleaning was special. It had to be cleaned, then swabbed with a cleaning rod to get rid of the cupriferous stuff (leftovers of copper from shell collars). A wooden pig was wrapped with rags and thick paper. The whole crew would hammer this wad – which was packed as tightly as possible in the barrel – with a rod, to get it through [i.e. in order to clean the barrel – trans.].

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Machine-gunners clean their DP-27.

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If possible, Red Army soldiers cleaned their submachine-guns while listening to the gramophone.

Everyone – without exception – envied the airmen, who not only lived in relatively comfortable conditions but also had technicians to prepare planes for sorties. Armament mechanics in aviation units were mostly girls but they were accountable on a par with men. A Junior Aviation Specialist, Nina Kounitsina, remembers:

My commander's cannon had failed during a dogfight. Fortunately this airman stayed alive! He reported to his commander that the cannon had failed due to the Junior Aviation Specialist. And that was it! The regimental commander announced in front of the formation: ‘To be court-martialled.’ I was in terrible grief! But I was lucky as, in two days, the squadron engineer managed to prove it wasn't my fault, and that the cartridge belt had cocked because of overloading.

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‘Did you clean your weapon?’ It was no mere chance that such a slogan was hanging at the entrance to a dugout. Commanders had to literally train a considerable number of semi-literate Red Army soldiers, especially men from Central Asia, to clean their rifles and submachine-guns regularly.

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Loading of the aircraft gun. You can see a female sergeant as the armament mechanic.

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Technicians carry out full disassembling and cleaning of an aircraft's machine gun.

Air Force technicians carrying out prophylactic work on a ‘Yak’ fighter.

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Servicing the engine of a Pe-2 dive-bomber in winter.

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A shoemaker finishing a new boot tree.

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Shoemakers in a field workshop repair threadbare boots. In the foreground you can see officers' boots and ordinary soldiers' kersey boots.

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