Over the course of human history, unlikely heroes have emerged from surprising places, and the battlefields of World War II were no exception. Ivan Pavlovich Sereda never meant to be a hero – his job was to feed hungry Red Army soldiers. However, when he was tested in 1941, the Soviet cook proved to be a fierce and creative fighter.
Sent to the front during Operation Barbarossa
Ivan Pavlovich Sereda was born in July 1919 in Oleksandrivka. His family were poor peasants and moved to Galitsynovka thinking there would be more opportunities there. When he came of age, Sereda enrolled in college, but left to train for a career in the culinary arts.
In June 1941, the German Army launched Operation Barbarossa, its invasion of the Soviet Union. Sereda was sent to the front, but not to serve as a solider. Instead, he used the skills he’d learned at the Donetsk Food Training Center to keep the troops assigned to the 91st Tank Regiment, 46th Tank Division, 21st Mechanized Corps fed.
A German tank rolls up
During the summer of 1941, Sereda’s unit, at the time stationed in a Latvian forest, was sent to preform maneuvers. The cook was the only one to stay back, tasked with preparing food for their return. Eventually, he heard several tanks rolling up. His first instinct was to wave, but he soon realized they weren’t Soviet vehicles – they were German-manned Panzerkampfwagen 38(t) tanks.
Sereda hustled behind a tent to gain cover, as two of the Panzer tanks rolled right past the camp. The third, however, stopped, and its commander jumped out to look at the camp. Taking a deep breath, Sereda realized he’d have to make a move – and soon. His rifle, a Mosin-Nagant, was out of reach, resting on a sack of potatoes, so he grabbed a nearby axe.
Ivan Pavlovich Sereda: A one-man wrecking crew
Sereda jumped out from his hiding spot and ran at the commander, screaming. Shocked, the German quickly ran from the axe-wielding man, back into the Panzer 38(t). Its machine gun then started to fire indiscriminately.
Sereda was behind the gun and remained unharmed. He then found a tarp, which he threw over the tank’s turret. After using a piece of cloth to cover the co-driver’s vision port and his chef’s apron to block the driver’s viewing port, Sereda began hacking away at the machine gun with his axe. At the same time, he yelled out for his comrades to provide him with tank grenades.
Of course, no one was there to hear him, but the Germans were unaware of that.
An impossible capture
The Germans didn’t stop firing their machine gun as Sereda hacked away. As a result, it became incredibly hot and, eventually, bent backward and was rendered inoperable. Amazingly, Sereda had taken out a feared German Panzer tank with nothing but an axe, some fury and a whole lot of moxie.
At this point, the cook retrieved his gun. As the Germans opened the tank hatch to surrender, they expected to see a number of soldiers, but came upon Sereda with his gun. He forced them to tie each other up and they became his captives.
The soldiers from the base camp soon returned to find what Sereda had managed to accomplish. This led him to become a legend within his own country, with his commander, Maj. Gen. Dmitry Lelyushenko, saying, “With his brave actions, he set an outstanding example of heroism.”
Ivan Pavlovich Sereda’s capabilities are recognized
After his heroics, Sereda’s superiors realized he might be better off doing something other than cooking and was made a scout within the Red Army. Not long after the first incident, he, again, came across a German tank. This time, he was able to sneak up on the Panzer and drop a grenade through the hatch, killing its occupants. He then climbed into the vehicle, using its machine gun to kill several more Germans.
On August 31, 1941, Sereda was named a Hero of the Soviet Union, and later awarded the Order of Lenin. By the end of World War II, he’d gone from a cook to a senior lieutenant and platoon commander, and had served in the Battle of Moscow and the Siege of Leningrad.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the injuries he’d suffered while fighting to take their toll. He would up passing away in 1950, at just 31 years old.