During the Great Patriotic War, as the Second World War is known by the Russians, there were several occasions when one or more soldiers of the Red Army accomplished the “impossible” and destroyed the fascist invaders even though their numbers were often many times greater than their own. The story that follows is just one of these, a story about which legends still form.
What happened with Dmitry Romanovich Ovcharenko, an ordinary Soviet soldier, is perhaps difficult to accept as the truth. The events in which he took an active part are more like the plot of a film than reality. However, this is not a fictitious story.
At first glance, Dmitry Romanovich was just like any other soldier, with an education in five classes. He was born into the family of a carpenter in the village of Ovcharovo, Kharkov province. Before the war, he worked on the collective farm. One Russian writer, Mark Kolosov, in his book entitled “People and exploits,” describes the story of Dmitry Romanovich Ovcharenko:
“When he grew up, his father taught him to handle an ax. In the long autumn evenings and in the winter cold, Dimka listened to different stories about the ax. Once the whole village took up the axes. Strongly they were offended by the Kaiser’s military. For the rest of his life, Dima remembered this tale of how popular anger was.”
He respected the ax as a tool and a weapon for killing.
When Ovcharenko became famous in the first weeks of the Great Patriotic War, he was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. He was awarded a gold star for having accomplished an unprecedented feat.
That feat, according to official information, was one where an unarmed guy was able to kill more than 20 fascists.
In July 1941, the unit in which Ovcharenko was serving was struggling to withstand the onslaught of German troops. The enemy broke through deep into the Soviet’s territory and the situation became very difficult.
Even movement through the territory was fraught with mortal danger. At that time, Ovcharenko served in a mobile machine-gun unit of the 389th Infantry Regiment of the 176th Division. He had already been wounded once.
His task at this particular time was delivering ammunition and supplies from one place to another. All this happened in the area of the village Pesets (in the south of Ukraine). As a personal weapon, Private Ovcharenko was carrying a “three-line” (rifle of the Mosin system) and an ax. Suddenly, a detachment of German soldiers and officers appeared on the road. The approximate number of enemy detachment was 50 men.
Taking advantage of Ovcharenko’s confusion, a German officer took his rifle. Then the German began to question the unarmed Soviet soldier. He asked who he was. At this point, the Germans missed one important detail: in the cart, on which Ovcharenko had been carrying ammunition, lay an ax. This is the weapon that Ovcharenko admired and had been able to use with skill since childhood.
Without thinking twice, the Red Army soldier took the ax and, with one blow, chopped off the head of the interrogating officer. After that, he threw three grenades one after another towards the German cars. Twenty-one German soldiers were killed, and the others fled in panic.
Not content, Ovcharenko caught up with the second escaping officer and took off his head, too. The unexpected and brutal killing of their officers and the fearlessness of the Soviet soldier demoralized the remaining Germans. Fear and unpreparedness for such situations became the reasons for the flight of the surviving German soldiers.
Ovcharenko took all the documents, maps, and weapons from the dead soldiers and delivered them all to the headquarters of the 389th Infantry Regiment. At first, they did not believe him. But after inspecting the scene, everyone was shocked. After recovering from injury, Ovcharenko returned to his regiment and resumed his duties in machine gun detachment.
This feat was criticized in Soviet and Russian media. The authenticity of the site in which these events took place was discussed. Doubts were raised about certain details of the slaughter, such as the real number of German soldiers there.
Some sources say that in reality there were fewer, perhaps about 30 men. Some historians claim that Ovcharenko simply hacked with an ax at the officers, and did not deprive them of their heads.
The presentation of the Hero of the Soviet Union is evidence of the authenticity of the killing of 23 Wehrmacht soldiers. Lieutenant-General Dmitry Ryabyshev and a member of the Military Council, Leonid Korniyts, signed the document in confirmation of the act of genuine heroism and fearlessness by the simple soldier Ovcharenko.
Upon researching the incident and speaking to those involved, military journalist and historian Yuri Melkonov had this to say:
“Ovcharenko showed wit and extraordinary courage, taking advantage of the confusion of the Germans. I think that he was a man of unbending will, devoted to his duty, land, and homeland. And striving to liberate his native land from fascist invaders by any means.”
In the battles for the liberation of Hungary in the area of Sheregeysh Station, Dmitry Romanovich Ovcharenko, a machine gunner in the 3rd Tank Brigade was seriously wounded. He died in the hospital on January 28, 1945.
Whatever it was, Ovcharenko Dmitry Romanovich remains in the memory of many and went down in history as “The Soldier with an ax”.