On June 30, 1900, in the village of Alvedino, Kazan province, the future defender of the Brest Fortress Peter Gavrilov was born into a peasant family. His childhood was difficult - he lost his father early, his mother had to earn a living by day work - to wash other people's clothes.

Gavrilov graduated from the Kazan Central Christening-Tatar school. From a youth he was a laborer, and at the age of 15 he got a job as a laborer at a factory in Kazan.

In 1917, Peter Gavrilov took part in revolutionary events, and in 1918 joined the ranks of the Red Army, fought against the troops of Alexander Kolchak and Anton Denikin. In 1922 he became a member of the RCP (b). After the Civil War, Gavrilov remained to serve in the Red Army. In 1925, he graduated from the Vladikavkaz military infantry school and continued to serve in various rifle units of the Red Army.

In 1939, Peter Gavrilov completed his studies at the Military Academy of M.V. Frunze, after which he was appointed commander of the 44th Infantry Regiment. While in this position, he took part in the Soviet-Finnish War, after which he was sent to Western Belarus.

“There was practically no heavy weapons”

At the beginning of World War II, the 44th Rifle Regiment, among several other parts of the 28th Rifle Corps, was located in the Brest Fortress. In addition, it served as a unit of the 17th Red Banner Brest Border Detachment, the 132nd separate battalion of the NKVD escort troops and the 33rd separate engineering regiment.

The Brest Fortress was attacked by the 45th Wehrmacht Infantry Division with the support of artillery, tanks and aviation units. The Nazis brutally attacked the Brest Fortress, and then began to storm its fortifications with infantry.

Some of the Soviet rifle units left the fortifications, but Peter Gavrilov decided to stay. According to his recollections, he did not want to leave the wounded soldiers and the materiel entrusted to him. The massive departure of the defenders of Brest, in his opinion, would have turned into an erratic escape. In addition, Gavrilov counted on the arrival of reinforcements in the fortress.

“The Soviet servicemen had practically no heavy weapons. They had small arms, as well as a small number of anti-aircraft guns, mortars, “forty-fives” and armored cars. It was a defense with almost bare hands against Hitler’s tanks and large-caliber artillery, ”military historian Yuri Knutov said in an interview with RT.

The Nazis were able to take the fortress into the ring and break into a number of places on its territory. However, the Soviet military formed several centers of resistance, reflecting enemy attacks. After the fall of the Terespol and Volyn fortifications on the western and southern islands, the resistance concentrated in the Kobrin fortification and the Citadel of the fortress.

“The defense of the Kobrin fortification, and then the East fort, was led by Gavrilov. Under his command were about 400 fighters with several guns and machine guns. On June 29, most of his squad died as a result of the bombing. A group of 12 Soviet troops led by Peter Gavrilov took refuge in the dungeons and began to attack individual groups of Nazis. In the end, he was left alone, ”Knutov said.

  • Reproduction of the painting “Defenders of the Brest Fortress” by P. A. Krivonogov (1951)
  • RIA News
  • © O. Ignatovich

According to Alexander Mikhailov, a specialist in the History of the Victory Museum, Gavrilov became one of the last defenders of the Brest Fortress. Severely wounded, without food and water, he continued to fight. To maintain strength, he even tried to eat compound feed found in the fortress. Soon, he began to have severe pains in his stomach. By the groans of the Nazis found an unconscious major and captured. This happened on July 23, 1945, the expert said.

The Nazis tried to knock out from Gavrilov information about the defense of the fortress and about him personally, but he was silent. Only when German doctors said that the prisoner was almost at death did they lag behind him, historians say.

  • Major Gavrilov performed by Alexander Korshunov in the film "Brest Fortress"
  • © Shot from the film "Brest Fortress" (2010)

“The German command decided that such a man as Gavrilov should be persuaded to serve himself. He was persuaded to propaganda work, ”said Alexander Mikhailov.

According to the expert, Gavrilov was placed in the Hammelburg officer camp, in which the Nazis conducted psychological treatment of the Soviet commanders, inciting them to cooperate, but the defender of the Brest Fortress refused to betray his homeland. After that, he was imprisoned in concentration camps with more difficult conditions.

“According to some reports, while in concentration camps, Gavrilov took part in the activities of the anti-fascist underground,” said Alexander Mikhailov.

“Neither war nor captivity broke”

In May 1945, Peter Gavrilov was released from captivity. According to Yuri Knutov, the defender of the Brest Fortress was in the filtration camp for a while, undergoing a special check. The SMERSH counterintelligence confirmed that he did not cooperate with the enemy, and Gavrilov was reinstated in the rank of major. However, he, as a prisoner and having lost a party card, was expelled from the party.

In the fall of 1945, Gavrilov was appointed head of the camp for Japanese prisoners of war who built the Abakan-Taishet railway.

“Despite all the horrors of the concentration camps, Gavrilov did not harden. He treated the prisoners humanely, eliminated internal abuses in their environment, and prevented an epidemic of typhus in the camp, ”Knutov said.

Having fallen under the post-war reduction of the Red Army, Gavrilov was fired and returned to his small homeland, the Tatar ASSR. According to Yuri Knutov, Gavrilov, as a former prisoner, was greeted coldly. He was not hired for a good job; his fellow countrymen made unpleasant remarks against him. Because of this, he decided to move to Krasnodar. However, there he was able to get a job only as a laborer and only with time with the help of friends became a forwarder at the instrument-making plant.

“Already today, someone launched the famous fake that Gavrilov was allegedly repressed and spent many years in the Gulag, but this is refuted by a whole array of documents and memoirs of Gavrilov himself and his friends,” Knutov said.

Even before the war, Gavrilov married and adopted a boy. Returning to the USSR, he could not find any traces of his relatives and believed that they had died. Therefore, living in Krasnodar, married a second time.

  • Peter Gavrilov and the defender of the fortress, sergeant Nikolai Balak, at the Brest Hero Fortress Memorial Complex, May 9, 1975
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  • © Victor Chernov

“In the 1950s, the Soviet writer Sergei Smirnov, with the support of Konstantin Simonov, conducted his own historical investigation and restored the main events related to the defense of the Brest Fortress. He released a book, as well as a series of materials in the media. Defenders of the fortress, including Pyotr Gavrilov, almost instantly became popular celebrities, ”said Alexander Mikhailov.

According to the expert, Gavrilov was reinstated in the party, and in 1957 he was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

During a visit to Brest, Peter Gavrilov learned that his first family survived. The wife and child fled from German captivity and hid in one of the Belarusian villages. After the war, Ekaterina Gavrilova was paralyzed due to illness and was in the district house of disabled people, and her son was doing military service at that time.

“Gavrilov took his first wife to Krasnodar and tried to surround him with care. However, her health condition was grave and she soon died, ”said Yuri Knutov.

  • Peter Gavrilov visiting schoolchildren of Krasnodar
  • © N. Kozachenko

Having restored his good name, Peter Gavrilov was actively engaged in social activities and patriotic education of the younger generation, wrote memoirs.

Peter Gavrilov died on January 26, 1979. He was buried in the garrison memorial cemetery of Brest - next to military comrades. Streets in various cities of the former USSR and peak in the Tien Shan are named after the hero. He also became the hero of a number of films dedicated to the defense of the Brest Fortress.

  • Gravestone at the Garrison Cemetery in Brest
  • © Wikimedia Commons

“By 1941, Gavrilov was already an excellent commander with serious combat experience. But his main weapon was a colossal fortitude that even struck enemies. It was she, as well as outstanding personal qualities, that allowed him to pass through the most difficult trials with dignity. Neither war nor captivity broke him, ”summed up Yuri Knutov.