It’s the 2nd of July 1941.
At a field kitchen in a forest near Dünaburg, Latvia.
Ivan Pavlovich Sereda calmly peels potatoes for the evening soup.
Graduate from culinary college, Sereda is assigned to the 91st Tank Regiment,
46th Tank Division of the 21st Mechanized Corps as a cook.
It’s a grim scene at the camp.
They’ve been fighting for 4 days straight, and losses are mounting.
All around him are men in limbo,
tank crews with no tank, drivers without cars,
and soldiers recovering from wounds;
they clean their weapons, do laundry, smoke, and chat with each other.
The only people that seem to have a set purpose were the mechanics
running around fixing the many damaged tanks littered outside.
Then, suddenly, a liaison to the Battalion Commander arrives at the camp,
shouting and ordering everyone to “Get your weapons and move out!”
A new push by the Germans threatens to encircle allied forces
and every able bodied man is desperately needed to plug holes in the front line,
this ragged group of “reserves” included.
All except him.
As a cook, Sereda is ordered to stay in place preparing meals
as everyone else fights,
if the front falls, he is to defend the camp to the death.
As such he can do nothing but watch as the men around him drop everything and rush into battle.
The camp is left alone and deathly quiet, a far cry from the scene just moments prior.
The eerie silence is only broken by the crackles of the fire,
the boiling water,
and the distant echoes of battle.
In the middle of the dead camp still sits Sereda,
preparing meals for the men fortunate enough to come back.
A while later a distant sound gets his attention.
That distinctive rumble of engines and squeaks of tank suspension.
More damaged tanks?
He leaves his work behind to go take a look.
Outside in a cloud of dust he spots some vehicles in the distance approaching his position.
He considers lifting his hand to greet them…
but something is wrong.
The shape of the tanks is… off.
His blood runs cold as he realizes those aren’t his comrades,
they are German Panzers.
He stares at the scene for a few eternal, gut-wrenching moments,
almost wishing for his eyes to be deceiving him,
but they aren’t.
Sereda runs behind the kitchen tent, the soup long forgotten.
Peeking out from his hiding spot he can see the tanks slowly approaching,
but also, he spots his rifle resting abandoned against a sack of potatoes.
He curses silently to himself
and desperately searches around the back of the tent
for a weapon, any weapon,
he quickly finds the axe they use to break firewood
and takes it.
It probably can’t do much against a tank, but it will have to do.
With the rumble of the tanks becoming ever louder
he takes another peek and watches as the German armor
rolls by the camp,
two Pz.Kpfw.38(t)s drive by,
giving his kitchen little attention,
but the third steers directly towards him.
He hides and needs to think fast if he is to come out of this alive.
Hearing the tank come to a stop and looking back out
he sees the German tank parked right in front of his kitchen,
the turret hatch swings open, and the tank commander’s head pops out.
The German appears to laugh and say things to his crew
before nonchalantly jumping out of the machine
and walking towards the seemingly abandoned kitchen.
He watches the commander, waiting for an opportunity,
gathering his courage,
gripping his axe.
Then, he strikes.
Charging out of his position
brandishing the axe high above his head
and screaming like a madman.
The German sees a sweaty, ragged figure
with an apron and an axe charging towards him
and he runs for his life,
fleeing right back to the safety of the tank.
Sereda chases him down through the kitchen
and picks up his rifle along the way,
the commander climbs up and quickly disappears inside the vehicle,
closing and locking the hatch behind him.
Moments later the tank’s machine gun starts firing erratically,
obviously unable to see Sereda.
Diving out of the machinegun’s arc of fire.
He sits in a blind spot as he assesses the situation.
Then he spots a tarp lying on the floor.
Thinking quickly, he grabs the tarp
and throws it onto the tank’s turret, blinding it.
The tankers continue firing the machinegun despite being unable to see,
ripping through the entire kitchen.
Sereda takes another piece of cloth and throws it onto the co-driver’s vision port,
then he runs around behind the tank,
takes off his apron, and covers the driver’s viewing port as well.
The tank is now completely blind, yet they keep indiscriminately firing the machinegun.
Fueled by adrenalin, Sereda jumps on the German war beast
and smacks the barrel of the machine gun with the axe repeatedly.
The machine gun operator is confounded as stock moves inside the tank
in response to the pummelling from the axe.
The German keeps firing though…
Whatever this Soviet monster is on the tank
it will be stopped by German lead,
or so he thinks.
As the barrel heats up through the continuous fire,
Sereda is unrelenting.
Chop. Chop goes the axe.
Eventually the heat of the barrel
and the devastating blows from Ivan
cause the barrel to bend!
The machine gun now useless,
and Sereda goes to work on the tank hull.
Each swing of the axe reverberates inside the vehicle like a bell.
He starts shouting fake orders to imaginary comrades,
telling them “Get the grenades!” “Surround the tank!”,
and giving answers in a different voice.
The Germans inside are terrorized for their lives.
They’ve rolled into a Soviet ambush, surrounded by dozens of men,
clamoring for revenge against the German invaders!
In their minds there was nothing more to do.
Obviously vastly outnumbered they choose to surrender.
The hatch opens under the tarpaulin.
Sereda waits. Weapon at the ready.
The commander in the turret opens the hatch.
It’s dark as the tarpaulin still covers the exit.
He carefully climbs up shouting out “we surrender!”
Slowly and deliberately the commander removes the tarpaulin.
When he finally escapes the clinging tarp
he looks and takes in the scene.
Where are the Soviet Soldiers? baffled by what he sees…
a lone Soviet soldier standing on top of his tank,
aiming a Mosin Nagant at his chest.
Sereda orders the rest of the Germans off the tank one by one
and forces them at gunpoint to tie up their fellow soldiers.
When the rest of the regiment return from the battle, ready for soup,
they’re surprised not to see their cook by the camp fire,
but instead holding an entire tank crew prisoner and a working but somewhat battered German tank alongside.
His actions were recognized by the commander of the 21st Mechanized Corps,
Major General Dmitry Lelyushenko who stated,
"with his brave actions, he set an outstanding example of heroism."
Sereda was assigned to scout duties after the events
and would join his comrades in the front line less than a week later.
The axe he used during the engagement was kept as a memento of the 21st Mechanized Corps.
Ivan Pavlovich Sereda proved to be an excellent soldier.
He continued to defend his country for the rest of the War,
being promoted several times and receiving many awards and commendations throughout it.
He would serve in the Siege of Leningrad and in the Battle of Moscow
as Platoon Commander and would later be promoted to Senior Lieutenant.
As a man, who single handedly defeated a German tank
with an axe,
Ivan Sereda was awarded the “Hero of the USSR”
on August 31st, 1941.
Sereda survived the war, but it took a heavy toll on his body,
he succumbed to his many injuries
on November 18th, 1950,
in his home village of Alexandrovka, Ukraine, aged 31.