Special award: Pavel Lapshinov, holder of the British Order of King George VI
Not many heroes of the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War are still among us. They lived hard lives, sustained wounds, and worked hard during the difficult years of rebuilding our country after the war. Veteran of Arctic convoys and hero of the Great Patriotic War Pavel Lapshinov is 97, but in good spirits and optimistic, and even mocks his own "status."
"I always laugh," Lapshinov says. "I read a book as a child: after WWI someone was looking for a veteran, so all the newspapers carried an ad ‘Looking for WWI veteran, will pay 25 rubles.' No one was alive by that time… Same thing now… About 20 to 30 families were on Gremyashchy from here [Severodvinsk] and even more if you include Arkhangelsk, and here I am the only one in my family, which is already incomplete."
During the war, Lapshinov served on the destroyer Gremyashchy, which conducted 90 combat missions, 39 of them as an escort of foreign Arctic convoys, and 24 in the interior Arctic waters of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet ships met with Allied caravans at Medvezhy Island and sometimes on Svalbard (Spitsbergen). From there they escorted them to Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Molotovsk (now Severodvinsk — Ed.).
"The vessels which we escorted together with foreign ships went at a slow speed of 10 knots, and we had to also go slowly to protect them, which is a difficult task," Lapshinov says. "The sea doesn't like slow-moving ships, either. The Barents Sea tends to be stormy. Quiet weather is rare and a so-called calm sea also rocks a ship, and not everyone can stand it."
But Lapshinov not only managed to cope with the difficult circumstances, but also to earn high praise for his service. After one of the combat missions, he was awarded the Order of King George VI. An old photo album contains a photograph capturing the moment of him receiving the order. The Commander of the Northern Fleet Vice Admiral Arseny Golovko presented the sailor with the award.
"The document (everything was planned out) was issued and signed. It reads, For Outstanding Service, in English, and for Military Merits in Russian. The inscription on the band reads as follows: To Red Sailor Pavel Lapshinov. The order bears his name. The fact that it had my name came in handy. When I was at a celebration, there was a British man with the same medal, but a different ribbon. He was watching me closely, but did not approach me, I told the interpreter that something was off. And, sure enough, I was right. He asked me, ‘Where did you get this medal?' I said, ‘Pardon me, but this is my medal. I didn't steal it and no one stole it for me.' And I told him my story. ‘First, your king very wisely put my name on it.' He read the inscription and immediately changed his tone, ‘You know, I have the same medal, but mine is second category, and yours is first. You have the highest category.' They have different categories for officers and personnel. It's the highest order for personnel. He asked my permission to take a picture with me. So, of course, we took a picture."
Pavel Lapshinov talks about the British Order of King George VI
But war is war. In addition to tales and stories about the awards, the veteran has tragic stories to tell. He lost a friend during a convoy in the Kola Bay.
"Our watchman Misha Dubachyov saw a Nazi submarine in between the waves," Lapshinov says. "He let go off his hold on the rail and shouted, ‘I see a submarine at the bow!' The signalers on the bridge spotted it then, too. A strong wave came and washed Misha Dubachyov overboard. I was at my battle station at that time. And I heard someone saying on the phone that they see a man on the coat.* No one was sure who it was, but that was Misha Dubachyov. Then, the second wave hit him, and it was too late to save him. The torpedoemen started shooting at the submarine, gunners, too, opened fire on the submarine. We could not save Misha. Then, we noticed that wooden debris and oil surfaced. Later, the coastal defense people confirmed that we sank the Nazi submarine."
*Second protective coating of the icebreaker, or an "ice coat" in Russian
Pavel Lapshinov on the tragic death of his friend
Pavel Lapshinov was born in what is now the Vorobyovy Gory district of Moscow. Back then, it was a village. His mother died when he was two months old. His father died when Pavel was nine. He lived with his grandfather and grandmother. Pavel was drafted when he still lived in Vorobyovy Gory.
"That day, three trains were leaving the Leningradsky Railway station," Lapshinov says. "First, they took us to the bathhouse, and then to the station. Then, from the Severny Railway station, which went to the Far East, and the Kursky Railway station, which went to the Black Sea. These were the first recruits born in 1918 and 1919. We were the first who were 19 years old. Before 1939, they drafted men only after they turned 21."
After graduating from the "school of weapons" in Kronstadt, he went on to serve first in the Baltic Fleet, and then in the Northern Fleet. He went to war there, and ended the war also in the Northern Fleet. He didn't return to Moscow after retiring from the service, as he met his future wife in Arkhangelsk.
"Gorky Club was our favorite hangout spot," Lapshinov says. "Sunday was our day off. Those who wanted could stay in town overnight. So, I see a girl walking in front of me. I asked her where she was headed. To the Gorky Club, she said. Well, I joined her. We danced together. I came to her place after the dance. In 1945, you had to ask for permission from the commander. The commander of the ship helped us arrange the wedding, because food was scarce. So, he gave us some. It was a marine wedding, for sure."
When he was young, Lapshinov was a professional athlete. He did cross-country skiing, slalom, winter biathlon, and came in third in the RSFSR ski jumping competition. In addition, he led the Stroitel sports society, started a football team, and a children's sports school, where he trained children in football and skiing.
Perhaps, sports are his secret of longevity. At 97, he is still active, writes books, meets with young people and is looking forward to the Dervish-75 festival, where he will meet with veterans of the British fleet, with whom he used to escort the caravans heading north.