During the Great Patriotic War, 11,657 people were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Of these, 3,051 were rewarded posthumously, and among those is Mikhail Mikhailovich Kuyukov, a machine gunner of the 194th Infantry Regiment of the 162nd Infantry Division.
On July 5, 1943, the largest tank battle in the history began – the Battle of Kursk. On the German side, the offensive operation was called Citadel. It lasted for 49 days and about two million people, six thousand tanks, and four thousand airplanes participated. As a result of the battle, the German factions were defeated, and the Soviet troops switched to a liberation counter-offensive.
On August 26, 1943, Soviet divisions launched a large-scale operation along the 1,400-kilometer front that was located from the city of Smolensk to the Azov Sea. During the operation, 36 combined-arms, 4 tank, and 5 air armies were deployed on five fronts, with their combined strength numbering 2,650,000 men, 51,000 guns, 2,400 tanks, and 2,850 aircraft.
However, even though they were in the numerical minority, the Germans’ resistance made it difficult for the offensive to proceed. To the east of Belarus, the 134th German Infantry Division, opposed by the Soviet 399th and 307th Infantry Divisions, held the defense. The 299th, 292nd, 45th and 216th German infantry divisions defended the southern regions.
The well trained German soldiers, fortified in the settlements, provided stubborn resistance. Their widely used rearguard became a serious obstacle for the advancing Soviet troops, and the German garrisons mostly occupied the highest hills. However, by September 1943, the troops of the central front had managed to create a gap in the German defense, and rushed toward the Dnieper River.
On September 15, German Army Group South was ordered to retreat to the defensive fortifications located on the Dnieper.
On the night of September 29-30, the Soviet 3rd Battalion of the 65th Army of the Byelorussian Front was tasked with seizing the village of Skitok. This village was located on the Sozh River, on the outskirts of the town of Gomel, and represented a fortified stronghold.
Three times, Soviet soldiers attempted to attack the village, but thanks to a good firing position and the support of mortars and artillery, the Germans successfully repulsed all these attacks.
According to eyewitnesses, at this moment the machine gunner Mikhail Kuyukov, on the flank of the battalion, rolled out his Maxim machine gun to an open position and destroyed the German firing points with heavy fire. Thus, the battalion’s soldiers were able to break into the German trenches in this sector and seize the line.
After a while, the Germans allocated reserves and launched a counter-attack. Thanks to an excellent position and support from the side, Mikhail Kuyukov successfully fired on the advancing German soldiers.
During the battle, the Soviet side suffered losses and Kuyukov was wounded in both legs, but the German counterattack was repulsed. After a short time, under the cover of mortar fire, the Germans again attempted to retake their former positions, but without success.
The third attack was the fiercest. Concentrated mortar fire destroyed Kuyukov’s machine gun, and German soldiers broke into the trenches. Without wasting time, Kuyukov took an armor-piercing rifle from a dead soldier nearby and continued to resist. The number of defending Soviet soldiers quickly declined, and the Germans regained the line.
An American story would have the hero live to tell the tale, but this is a Russian story. Now, out of rifle cartridges, Kuyukov picked up a sub-machine gun from the ground and still continued to fire back at the surrounding German soldiers. Seeing his desperate position and perhaps fearing capture, Mikhail Kuyukov loudly shouted: “For the Motherland!” and killed himself with the last shot.
According to Soviet data and eyewitness accounts, Mikhail Kuyukov killed or wounded about 50 German soldiers and 2 officers in this battle. Over the course of the war, he eliminated about 120 German soldiers and captured 4, and also destroyed 5 machine gun points of the enemy. However, there is an opinion that this number is overestimated. In wartime, soldiers needed an image of a hero to motivate them.
The heroic struggle and the death of Mikhail Kuyukov became known in many divisions of the regiment. His feat was written about in the Soviet newspaper Front. Kuyukov became an example of a fearless and courageous soldier who remained faithful to his homeland until the end.
The name of Mikhail Kuyukov influenced the naming of streets such as Mezhdurechensk, Myskah, Novokuznetsk (Kemerovo region) and Tereshkovichi (Belarus). In Mezhdurechensk, a Russian boxing tournament is held in his honor. The name of Kuyukov was given to an unnamed mountain located in region of Gornaya Shoria. In addition, his name is immortalized on memorial plaques in Russia.