Teenager vs. Tiger: How 16-Year-Old Ivan Kuznetsov Received Three Orders of Glory

The “Zvezda” TV channel within the framework of the project “History of the Award” spoke about the youngest full knight of the Order of Glory Ivan Kuznetsov.

Ivan Kuznetsov was born in 1928 in the village of Migulinskaya, and later the family moved to the village of Bozhkovka in the Kamensky district. Ivan managed to complete seven grades of rural school when the war started.

A 13-year-old boy saw with his own eyes all the horrors caused by the Germans on the occupied territory. The hatred of the enemy that he later fought against was born during these years..

In 1943, when the Red Army liberated the Kamensky district, Ivan, along with women, other children, and the elderly, was digging trenches for German troops at gun point. The liberated peasants went home, but Ivan remained, becoming a son of the 185th Artillery Regiment of the 82nd Guards Rifle Division.

At first Ivan was appointed as an artillery gun ammunition carrier, then as a loader, and already in July 1943 he became a gunner. That’s when his amazing natural gunner talent showed up. And in addition, the teenager had fantastic composure that many adult men did not have.

14-years-old: A medal “For Bravery”

On September 3rd, 1943, Ivan’s calculation was able to destroy a fortified firing point with an accurate hit. However, immediately after that, a heavy German tank “Tiger” started to move towards him.

This huge armoured monster inspired horror because it was considered invulnerable and because of its power: its caterpillars made the ground shake. But the boy calmly turned his gun around, waited for it to come closer, and hit it.

A few days later, the young gunner destroyed a mortar battery, observation post, and artillery gun. For this he was awarded the medal “For Bravery”. And that’s because he was under the age of 15.

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15-years-old : Order of the Red Star and the First Order of Glory

Six months later, during the Nikopol/Krivoy Rog offensive operation, Vanya was able to silence six German bunkers with six shots. The award documents state that the gunner’s calculation was able to destroy about 100 Nazis, a tank alone, and repel three enemy counterattacks. For this Kuznetsov was awarded the Order of the Red Star.

But already in January 1945 for fights at the town of Zabadrove in Poland, where Ivan received a slight wound, he nevertheless was able to suppress the enemy firing points that did not allow the infantry to raise their heads, and was awarded the Order of Glory of the III degree.

By this point the teenager was already called Ivan Filippovich: he was a gun commander and a junior sergeant, he commanded people.

17-years-old: Full Knight of the Order of Glory

The Germans, defending their Fatherland, created enormous defensive structures. No one at the time thought that Soviet troops would move so quickly: almost every kilometre in Germany there were fortified firing points, which were extremely difficult to take. But, reading Kuznetsov’s award documents, it is possible to understand how the Soviet troops managed to reach Berlin by May 1945.

In battle on January 15th 1945, when the German defences were penetrated, he was wounded by a fragment of an enemy shell, but did not fall, and continued to fire, directly destroying two machine guns and destroying two bunkers.

In battle on March 28th 1945, when he stormed the fortress of Altenstadt with fire from his gun, he set fire to two houses containing three machine guns, on the same day destroyed two more machine guns along with their crew.

Kuznetsov was listed for the Order of Glory of the I degree at the age of 16, in April 1945, and was awarded it in May 1946, when he was 17-years-old.

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Go to school at 30

After the war Ivan remained in the army, and in 1949 he graduated from the Oryol Armour School named after Frunze. At the same time, he did not have a completed school education: he went to evening school only ten years later, in 1959.

In 1969 Kuznetsov was discharged into reserve and lived in the city of Borisov, Minsk region. According to relatives, he never boasted about awards, hardly spoke about the war, and was a very responsive and kind man. Many learned in the 1980s about the fact that he is the youngest in history full Knight of the Order of Glory. The war hero died in 1989.

We should note that since 1976, full holders of the order of Glory have been equated in rights and benefits to holders of the title of Heroes of the Soviet Union.


Aleksey Peshkov

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