Soviet military translators Keywords:. Tanzania (Zanzibar), Egypt, Yemen
Memories of military translators are presented by Oleg Teterin, First Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Asia and Africa Today magazine.
This and future issues of the magazine offer readers the memories of people who have worked as military translators in different parts of the world: in Tanzania (including the island part of the country - Zanzibar), Egypt, Mali, Afghanistan and Angola. All of them were young people, usually students or just finished the course of study - graduates of Moscow universities who studied Eastern and African languages.
Among them was me , a fifth-year student at the Institute of Oriental Languages at Moscow State University (since 1972, the Institute of Asian and African Countries-ISAA MSU), who knew Swahili and English quite well by that time.
"MILITARY SPECIALTY" OF TRANSLATORS
All of us dreamed of visiting the countries that we studied at universities, to plunge headlong into the language environment, to get acquainted with local traditions and customs. Often, working as a military translator was the only opportunity for us to realize this dream.
Of course, our military also had their own full-time translators, who were trained in VIYAk (as the Military Institute of Foreign Languages under the USSR Ministry of Defense was then called). But the scale of cooperation between the Soviet Union and the "third world" countries, including in the military sphere, was constantly growing, and the Ministry of Defense lacked its own translators with knowledge of rare languages (which was Swahili, the first of many African languages, which was taught in the USSR in the IVY at Moscow State University back in 1960).. And the military began to invite us to work as well...
I remember how excited I was about going on my first business trip to Zanzibar. It was June 1965. With my classmate Volodya Ovchinnikov, we crossed half the world. We flew for two days-first on the IL-18 to Cairo (then the extreme point of direct flights of Aeroflot to this region of Africa), then on the Douglas-9 jet to Khartoum (Sudan) and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) , and from there to Nairobi (Kenya), first on the on a screw Fokker, and then on a screw Cessna via Arusha with Tanga (Tanzania). Finally, we landed on the airfield of a tiny island in the Indian Ocean, this "button on the globe", in the apt words of Yura Ustimenko, the first TASS correspondent in Zanzibar (1964-1966). The island greeted us with stifling, humid heat.
I served for almost a year in the Chukwani military camp, which is 10-12 kilometers from the capital of Zanzibar-a city of the same name. The first group of Soviet military specialists arrived in Zanziabr in April 1964-two months after the revolution that took place on January 12 of the same year and overthrew the Sultan-
the British regime in a country that had previously been a British protectorate for decades. They came here at the invitation of the Revolutionary Council of the then-proclaimed People's Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba.
My colleagues and fellow military translators subsequently had different fates. But there was also something in common -we were proud of our mission, our Homeland. We have seen more than once that people in different countries look forward to the Soviet Union, which will always help and lend a helping hand if necessary. We sincerely believed that we were participating in a big and necessary business.
The life of a military interpreter is not a sinecure. Work 10-12 hours a day in tropical heat, often seven days a week. Written translations - to the point of pain in the eyes, oral translations - to the point of hoarseness in the throat. And add to this the possibility of getting malaria or cholera... In Zanzibar, I often came across patients with incurable leprosy and "elephant" disease: such people have swollen one or both legs, and feet - like an elephant! That's why the disease got its name. Add to this the Spartan living conditions, very often a "snack on the go", time was sorely lacking...
For the sake of justice, I must say that the "economic incentive" helped us to endure all these hardships: at that time, we were paid a decent salary abroad (of course, less than officers), I would even say - a lot, although now such money seems ridiculous.
Speaking of money. Shortly after returning home, I was preparing to enter graduate school in my native Perm. And suddenly I was summoned to the rector's office, and the rector himself, bluntly, said:: "You were a hoarder in Zanzibar!" I was taken aback: my luggage, brought from Zanzibar, consisted mainly of dictionaries, books and heavy files of local newspapers-materials for my future dissertation. There were some clothes and, of course, gifts: parents, friends, fiancee Oksana (we have been together for more than 45 years, we are raising grandchildren). The accusation at that time was serious - I was threatened with expulsion from the institute.
Then, in a roundabout way, it turned out that the basis of the ridiculous accusations was a denunciation. I was familiar with its author, and sometimes I still meet him, but I don't let on that I know about the "podmetny letter". Although every time after meetings I feel a sense of disgust...
I will return to the actual translation work. We were all well prepared , and I would like to thank our teachers for that. We were taught Swahili by Natalia Okhotina (who died in 1999, may her memory be blessed) and Nelly Gromova, now Head of the Department of African Studies at ISAA. The first "Swahili-Russian dictionary" has just been published, with a circulation, now it is hard to believe, of 6000 copies! And Nina Grigoryevna Fedorova, who still teaches at ISAA, just in those years began working on the first Swahili textbook for universities.
Together with my fellow students, I studied Swahili with pleasure, and all of us - I will say without false modesty - achieved success. I remember how the President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, himself a great Swahili scholar who translated Shakespeare's works into this language, when he heard the translation of my classmate Sasha Dovzhenko, said to him:"Few people in Tanzania know Swahili as well as you do."
In IWYA, we studied the Swahili dialect - " Kiunguja "(from the word" Unguja", which means" Zanzibar"), which is spoken on this island. The English called this dialect the "King Standard of Swahili". By my pronunciation, the Tanzanians in the continental part of the country, where I worked much later,* were unmistakable.: "You're from Zanzibar." And they were surprised that I started learning the language in Moscow. Hassan, a student of one of the capital's medical schools, a nephew of the Sultan of Zanzibar, who was deposed in January 1964, was a "native speaker" at our institute, but only for a short time. But all the same, we clearly did not have enough conversational language practice.
When I arrived in Zanzibar, I was surprised to learn that the word "kifaru "is not only" rhino", but also" tank " (a good comparison, isn't it!). And the hive - "mzinga" - also means "cannon": what do they have in common? It turns out that bee hives in Tanzania and in many other African countries are arranged not on the ground, as we have in Russia, but attached with ropes to branches in the crowns of trees. And they are not our "houses", but large logs of smooth-stemmed trees, including coconut palms, hollowed out from the inside. And what is the main element of the gun? That's right, the trunk! So the hive - "mzinga" - became a "cannon"...
In the Chukwani camp, I dealt mainly with military-technical issues
* 1978-1982-Head of the Bureau of the Novosti Press Agency (APN) in Tanzania
by translation. Our officers showed and told us, of course, in Russian (and I translated it into Swahili), how guns are arranged-anti-aircraft guns, machine guns, grenades, mortars. I also had to master and translate, sometimes "from the sheet", the assembly and disassembly of the Kalashnikov assault rifle, the carburetor device, and other parts and assemblies in our GAZ-69s...
Training shootings were also conducted. I was a good shot myself, and during my studies at the military department, IVYA won prizes at university shooting competitions. I remember translating it to new Zanzibar soldiers who didn't even know what "front sight" and "slot" were and that you should aim "under the bull's-eye". "What is a bullseye?" - they asked me, "the fruit is like this-an apple, an apple", - I say, and drew on the blackboard, - "here is under it and aim". And I was told:"Such fruits do not grow in Zanzibar." Well, what do you want me to do? They had to memorize it, repeating after me in a singsong voice in Russian - "yab-loch-ko".
Or here's another one. At the exercises, we work out how to crawl in a plastunsky way. I could not translate this term "on the spot". So I thought: I'll interview a dozen soldiers and sergeants, and show each of them individually how to do this by my own example. He crawled on the stony ground of Chukwani, where he stripped more than one pair of trousers and frayed a lot of shoes. "Understand?" "I'm asking." "How do you say it in Swahili?" And everyone had their own answer! I was hoping for at least two coincidences, but, alas...
"And who is the "plastun", ndugu (comrade) Oleg?" the soldiers asked. "This is a skilled and fearless warrior, scout, master of disguise, sniper" - " Oh! And we want to be the same, " the soldiers shouted. - Ndugu Oleg, show us again what it's like to "crawl" in a plastunsky way...
I tell you about this in such detail only because I translated it into Swahili (on the instructions of the head of our group of military specialists in Zanzibar, Colonel Viktor Mikhailovich Grigoriev)"Field charter of the Soviet Army "" Katiba ua Jeshi la Nchi Kavu "("Charter of the Land Forces") so I was left without "crawling like a plastunsky".
...We are going to attack. I run in the first rank, next to and slightly ahead of my commander, Major Boris Nikolaevich Linev, and behind the sergeants and lieutenants - Zanzibarans, followed by soldiers. Suddenly, bullets whizzed around. It is the soldiers of the second echelon, who were sitting in the trenches, who start firing in all directions without restraint. And the ammunition is combat! "Get down!" Linev shouts. I also shout, " Lala chini!"
Everyone fell to the ground-thank God, nothing happened. When I get back to the trenches, I ask the corporal: "Who gave the order to open fire?" He answers important: "I ordered it." "Mbuzi wee!" I tell him in my heart: this is a common expression in Zanzibar in certain cases, an exact copy of our own - " What a goat you are!" (In Swahili, "mbuzi" means "goat") 1.
I could cite many other cases - funny and sad, instructive and comic. But before referring readers to the memoirs of my colleagues and comrades, I would like to remember those who did not return from their business trips. Many Soviet military translators, no matter where they were in the "hot spots" abroad, had many deadly dangers - the shelling of an airplane with missiles from the ground, then machine-gun fire from an ambush, then the explosion of a terrorist bomb.
In the central hall of ISAA, there is a memorial plaque with photos of six students-military translators who died in the battles in Afghanistan in 1980-1989. Bright memory to them! And next to it is a large list of those who were awarded military orders and medals for bravery shown in combat operations in the same years.
THE WHOLE DAY WAS SCHEDULED BY THE MINUTE
A graduate of the Institute of International Relations (now MGIMO (U) of the Russian Foreign Ministry)talks about his work as a military translator in Egypt Anatoly Ivanov.
I started working as a military translator with the English language I learned at MGIMO at the end of August 1960 (when I was 26 years old) on the line of the so-called "ten" - the 10th Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Ministry of Defense.
My first assignment was to a communications college in Cairo. In addition to translating lectures and discussing various organizational issues with the school's management, it was necessary to translate the recommendations of our military advisers - 16 typewritten pages daily. At the same time, the lieutenant colonel, a senior member of the group of military interpreters, said that he would periodically check the quality of our work.
The first few months were very difficult. I had to work literally to the limit. The volume of written translation, as I later learned, was twice as large as the usual standards for translators. In addition, we had to prepare a daily review of the local press for our specialists.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I was transferred to the"aviation group". In the fall of 1961, when I was on vacation, we were informed in Moscow that we would be working as flight interpreters on Tu-16 bombers. Our squadron consisting of 12 Tu-16 aircraft took off from Belaya Tserkva on November 6, 1961 and headed for Cairo. Hungary and Yugoslavia flew calmly by. And in Greece - either by accident, or intentionally-they passed exactly over the American air force base near Athens. Several fighter planes appeared right next to us, which chased us for a long time, demanding to land.
Finally, we saw the African coast, the Nile Delta, the Sahara Desert, and the outline of Alexandria. We landed at the Cairo-West Air Force Base. They greeted us solemnly. On the Egyptian side - Vice President Anwar Sadat, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces Marshal Abdel Hakim Amer, Chief of the General Staff General Mahammad Fawzi, and other high-ranking military personnel. After the ceremony of handing over the aircraft to Egypt, A. Sadat presented the entire flight crew with gifts: cuts for suits, shirts and earthenware vases.
I started working in a subgroup serving the flight technical staff of bomber and military transport aviation. For quite a long time he was the only translator for 12 of our students
specialists who trained Egyptian personnel at the Cairo-West base.
Working hours were scheduled literally by the minute. There was a chronic shortage of translators. The composition of the subgroups was determined by the volume and complexity of weapons and military equipment supplied by the Soviet Union, as well as our ability to train the necessary number of local military personnel.
Soviet-Egyptian relations at that time were generally developing along an ascending line. With the help of our specialists, the famous Aswan dam, the steel mill in Helwan, the aluminum plant in Nag Hammadi, the shipyard in Alexandria were built, in total-more than 100 objects.
The attitude of the army towards us, the Soviet people, was ambiguous. There was a significant stratum of not only generals and officers, but even soldiers and corporals, who almost openly expressed their dissatisfaction with the presence of Soviet military specialists, although they did not deny their positive role in improving the combat capability of the Egyptian army. Some of the officers occasionally made snide remarks about our presence, bordering on provocation. The Coptic (Christian) Egyptians who worked as aircraft technicians were much friendlier to us, and they openly showed us their sympathy and friendship.
Where and why these sidelong glances, and even dirty tricks surreptitiously? In Egypt, with the blessing of the top leadership, anti-Soviet "months" were held annually, specially timed to coincide with the May Day holidays and Victory Day. I think that in addition to the duplicitous policy of Cairo, our attitude to religion also played a significant role here.
"Who are you by religion? Christians"? - they often asked us. We, the Soviet specialists, invariably answered this question: "We are atheists." You should have seen the reaction of the Egyptians: they were shocked! How is it to reject the Supreme? So there is nothing sacred for this person? What can be related to it? The fact that quite a few of these people, who called themselves "orthodox", could have sold the state secrets available to them at a reasonable price to the person who would pay for them remains out of the question. At the same time, all our specialists and translators were closely monitored by the local special services.
It was not easy to work with the military authorities, especially with the highest ranks. I know this very well - for the last two years (1963-1964) I worked at the headquarters of the Egyptian Air Force and Air Defense. Most of the recommendations of our advisers on various issues of combat training and military construction were actively discussed and adopted, but when it came to their implementation, for some reason everything stalled.
So, our experts said: repaint the planes in a yellow-sandy color - it coincides with the color of the desert. And every time we heard the answer: we won't do it - the sun will quickly burn out the paint, and we will only waste time and money... Our military insisted on creating false positions for aircraft and other security measures. They were accepted, but the Egyptians did not lift a finger to follow these tips. In my experience, the Egyptian army at that time was careless and irresponsible.
The neglect of basic camouflage cost the Egyptians dearly during the" six-day war " with Israel in 1967. In the very first hours, Israeli aviation destroyed 270 Egyptian aircraft at airfields and 60 in air battles, disabled 9 airfields, and several anti-aircraft missile systems. In total, 309 out of 420 Egyptian aircraft were destroyed, including 4 squadrons of Tu-16 and Il-28 bombers. Soviet losses amounted to 35 people - our citizens were killed during Israeli raids on military facilities in Egypt and Syria.
I worked at Cairo West Air Base for more than six months. Due to the increase in the number of our advisers at the headquarters of the Egyptian Air Force and Air Defense, I was transferred to Heliopolis. Soon, the first 6 An-12 military transport aircraft delivered to Egypt arrived in Cairo. They could not be better suited to the conditions of Egypt - all-weather, had a long flight range, high speed and unpretentiousness in maintenance.
AN-12s played a huge role in servicing the "air bridge" organized at the request of the Egyptians from Cairo to Sana'a and Hodeidah (Yemen) to assist the Republicans who overthrew the monarchical regime in Yemen on the night of September 26-27, 1962. After the coup, the tension in the country increased every day, until it turned into a bloody civil war that lasted for many years. By providing military aid to Yemen, Cairo pursued its own goals, the main one of which is to strengthen Egypt's geopolitical influence in the Arab world.
But I'll get back to my work. Aviamost was opened on September 28, the day after the coup in Yemen. Flights were provided by our aircraft, from a base near Cairo. For camouflage purposes, the "boards" took off at dusk, and in Aswan, in the dead of night, they made an intermediate landing. Flight interpreters who served Most,
there were only a few people. They took only single people and only volunteers, including me. The flights were fraught with great risk.
So, already on the first flight, we had to land in Aswan in pitch darkness, and this is when the plane is fully loaded. There was another surprise waiting. It turned out that during the construction of the airfield, the Egyptians kept a fairly high rock at the beginning of the strip. They informed us about it literally at the last minute. During the "blind" landing, the rock was a very serious danger, but, fortunately, everything turned out fine thanks to the skill of our pilots.
Egyptian troops numbering more than 60 thousand, with tanks and warplanes were in Yemen for more than 5 years. The Egyptians have not fulfilled many of their obligations. So, they did not succeed in creating a regular national army. Moreover, almost from the very first days of their stay in this country, the Egyptian military behaved like invaders, trampling on local customs and traditions.
By the way, a significant role in the defeat of Egypt in the "six-day war" was played by the fact that a significant part of the most combat-ready, experienced military contingent was not on the Israeli front, but in Yemen. In 1967, Egypt had to withdraw its troops from Yemen.
By the end of my business trip, I had more than 150 sorties - over 1,200 hours in the air. Our management introduced me to two military orders of the Red Star. But when I returned to Moscow, I was awarded only one order. It turns out that it was not allowed to award military orders to Soviet citizens in peacetime more often than once every 3 years. So, risk your life "strictly on schedule", and more often - "do not be able to"...
I've been through a lot... I remember my flights with the crew of Major Nikolai Konstantinovich Kaltygin. He had a colorful appearance: a two-meter-tall hero, a handsome man, a merry man and a showman. The pilot, as they say, is from God, and the crew was a match for the commander. With this crew, I also survived my first accident. That's how it was.
We land in Aswan at night, the lane is not lit. The same rock at the very beginning of the strip cut off the already released rear landing gear like a knife. The impact was so strong that the fuselage cracked. The pilot still did not let the plane "sink" and kept it in the air. When it turned out that we were not falling, the question became: what should we do?
There was no reason to think about landing with full tanks and no landing gear. When landing on the fuselage of 43 barrels of aviation kerosene on board (for the return flight) could detonate and explode. The commander made a decision: he alone will remain at the helm, and the crew, tied with ropes, begins to chop the bottom of the plane with axes in order to throw out everything that interferes with the opening of the ramps, and then throw all the cargo overboard. First of all, barrels of kerosene.
In order to protect against pressure drop at altitude, they were not clogged. When we started to turn them over, kerosene began to spill out - there was a danger of fire. Then they laid blankets on the cargo bay floor and moved the barrels with great care. When the first one was finally pushed down, everyone froze in a daze. Instead of falling down, it suddenly began to roll over and rise up - just a little more, and it will touch the tail of the plane! Fortunately, after twisting it several times, the barrel went flying down, and soon there was a deafening explosion among the rocks. We started on the next one, and so on, until we threw out all the barrels.
It was still dark when they reached Cairo. They began to describe circles over the airfield at an altitude of 150 meters to fully develop fuel in order to avoid an explosion of the aircraft during landing. Only an hour later, when his supply was completely exhausted, the dispatcher "cut out" a window for landing.
And yet, the plane immediately caught fire from contact with the runway. The fuselage outside was on fire, and part of the tailplane had fallen off. The commander motioned for me to jump. The height is about five meters, and flames are already licking the cabin outside. There's no time to think. I close my eyes so the fire won't burn them, and jump upside down. Oddly enough, I do a somersault, land on my feet, and run as fast as I can away from the plane. Kaltygin was the last to jump-thank God, everyone was safe and sound.
Another incident was more tragic and occurred not in the air, but on the ground.
I was once summoned by Lieutenant-General Pyotr Ivanovich Nedelin, a senior member of the group of military specialists of the Air Force and Air Defense (brother of Chief Marshal of Artillery Mitrofan Ivanovich Nedelin, who died at the Baikonur cosmodrome in September 1960 while testing new rocket systems). He had just arrived in Cairo and was still getting up to speed. Ordered: by the next Sunday, order a minibus for a trip to Ismailia. "I want to swim in the Suez Canal," he said.
I tried to explain to him that such a trip was untimely and, moreover, dangerous. Khrushchev's visit to Egypt had just ended-it was the summer of 1964. Hostile forces organized another anti-Soviet "month" shortly after the departure of the leader of the USSR. Under these circumstances, the appearance of a single vehicle with Soviet military personnel on the road is a direct violation of the safety instructions, and the trip cannot take place without the approval of Lieutenant General A. S. Pozharsky, head of the Group of Soviet Military Specialists in Egypt.
General Nedelin apparently did not tolerate advice, much less objections, from his subordinates. He yelled at me and made it clear in a rude way: "eggs don't teach a chicken." In addition, it turned out that the general is an avid film and photo enthusiast, and he has already got a Japanese movie camera...
There were 11 people who wanted to go (some of them with their children). The Volkswagen minibus held 16 people. So I advised our permanent driver, Mohammed, who had been driving us for three years, to take his wife (who, as it turned out, was pregnant) and two young children with him.
Seat belts did not exist at that time. Traffic on the roads of Egypt is a living hell, no one observes traffic rules. But our Mohammed was an experienced driver, and I always felt safe when traveling with him.
There were two roads leading from Heliopolis to Ismailia. One was a civilian street lined with endless retail outlets. The second one is military, closed to civilian transport. It seemed safe, laid out in the desert, which is why I told Mohammed to take it.
We reached Ismailia safely and took a swim in the Suez Canal, but the general was not happy. He wanted to film some genre scenes on the way, but he didn't see anything but the desert. He looked at me like a wolf, though he didn't say anything. On the way back, he ordered to follow the civilian road.
In vain I tried to persuade him not to do this, referring to the order of the Chief Adviser, who strictly forbade Soviet people to use this route during hostile actions. The general loudly reprimanded me, saying that as a senior officer, he takes all responsibility on himself.
The traffic was heavy. I noticed that the truck that was following us was getting close to us, and I asked Muhammad to lean into the ditch. But the truck driver stubbornly refused to overtake. So we were driving for some time, when suddenly a truck loaded with rebar flew out of the turn at high speed towards us, along our lane. The only thing that Muhammad managed to do, and that saved most of our lives, was to throw the van sharply into a ditch. But the driver of an oncoming truck at full speed still crashed into the corner of our bus. The impact was so strong that all the seats with passengers in the minibus were torn off and thrown forward. A large "mal pile" was formed in the cabin. Everyone was unconscious...
I was the first to come to my senses, I saw a crowd of people around me. No one was in a hurry to help, even though we were bleeding profusely and almost all of us had broken bones. The Egyptians standing nearby explained that they were forbidden to provide any assistance to foreigners until the police arrived.
Half an hour later, a bus carrying employees of our embassy, who were returning to Cairo from Ismailia, stopped next to us. The accident occurred 8 kilometers from the Abu Sueyra Air Force Base, where, as I already knew, the Air Force Hospital was located. We went there and loaded my colleagues into the embassy bus. But it was a day off, and not a single doctor was in the hospital! I had to go to Ismailia - which is another 12 kilometers - to the district hospital. But there's no one there either - everyone's gone to Cairo for the weekend. In a desperate situation, here in the hospital, I demanded to be put on the phone with Vice-President Anwar Sadat, who was in charge of the army. I informed him about the incident and asked him to arrange for urgent assistance.
And only after his personal order, about 12 hours later, we were taken to the hospital. By that time, Mohammed, his pregnant wife and two young children, as well as the 12-year-old son of one of our officers, had died without regaining consciousness. The general suffered a double hip fracture and a broken right arm. I got off easier than the others: I got a head injury, concussion and concussion.
Three days later, the general was brought to my hospital room on a gurney. He paused and said: "I'm sorry, bro. I thought you, a civilian, were playing it safe. Thank you for everything you did to save us." A few days later, the general was taken to Moscow on a special ambulance flight. By the way, he was a combat general who fought in Spain, was a volunteer pilot.
I later learned that he had been dismissed prematurely in Moscow. I never saw him again. And the father of the deceased boy, Igor Sutyagin, always began to sob when he met me. He couldn't forgive himself for keeping his mouth shut during my exchange with the general, observing the chain of command. Although I knew perfectly well that the trip would be dangerous ... 2
* * *
A. N. Ivanov returned from Egypt in 1964-1965. He worked as a senior assistant in the foreign department of the Presidium of the USSR Academy of Sciences, and then moved to the Institute of Africa. Currently, he is a Senior researcher at the Center for Scientific Information and International Relations of the IAfr RAS. Author of several publications.
(To be continued)
1 For more information, see: Teterin O. I. On Zanzibar, a little about yourself and others / / In Egypt and on Zanzibar (1960-1966). Memoirs of Soviet military translators. Moscow, 2011, pp. 102-198.
2 For more information, see: Ivanov A. N. In Egypt //Ibid., pp. 4-101.
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