Everyone from the military that is sent to the field, regardless of the role, plays a vital role. Be it you’re a general involved in making big important decisions or a cook assigned to feed the troops, boost their morale, and impact their performance for the better. Each is expected to perform their assigned tasks, whatever they are, dutifully. What was not expected was when at one time, an army cook saved the day not only with his cooking but also with his fast thinking. That was exactly how army cook Ivan Pavlovich Sereda impressed his squad when he once single-handedly captured a group of German tankers.
Joining the Red Army
Ivan Pavlovich Sereda was born on July 1, 1919, in the village of Oleksadrivka, now part of the city of Kramatorsk in Ukraine, to a peasant family. Soon, his family moved to a bigger village in Galitsynovka in hopes of finding better opportunities. As for Sereda, he decided not to finish college and enrolled in the Donetsk Food Training Center to become a cook instead. At that time, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had signed their non-aggression pact, although Joseph Stalin was still suspicious at that time. In reality, Adolf Hitler still wanted to invade the Soviet territory to provide a bigger living space for the Germans, according to his autobiography, Mein Kampf.
In November 1939, Sereda was drafted into the Red Army. He did his basic training and was assigned as a cook to the 91st Tank Regiment, 46th Tank Division of the 21st Mechanized Corps.
Come February 1941, the German troops had already started assembling on the Romanian-Soviet border, and their planes overflew the Soviet Union, conducting surveillance missions. Stalin, at first, was reluctant to believe that Hitler would indeed attempt to invade the Soviet Union. He thought they were still trying to bring Britain down, so it would not really make sense to begin another war. However, on June 21, he put the Soviet military on high alert, and the next day, began a general mobilization of the country.
Unfortunately, the communications infrastructure of the Soviets was terrible. In constant fear of being deposed, Stalin had purged the military of its best and most experienced officers and replaced them with men who were considered politically reliable rather than operationally competent. As you might expect, units on the frontline either received the call late or did not receive anything at all. The next day, the Nazis began crossing the border under artillery and airstrikes, carrying out Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union.
In August of 1941, Sereda was in camp just outside the city of Dvinsk, now Daugavpils in Latvia. It was night, and the soldiers he was with were out on maneuvers. He was busy in the field kitchen preparing dinner when he noticed a tank rolled up. Sereda stared at the tank and wondered how many more men he would need to provide dinner for. He was deep in his thoughts when he realized that the tank he was staring at was not from the Soviet Union but Germany. He quickly hid behind the kitchen tent as the tank stopped in the clearing, and the four crewmembers got out, speaking in German. At the right moment, Sereda grabbed his rifle and ax that he used for chopping firewood. He charged at them, all while screaming as if he went nuts.
The Germans, who were taken aback and thought they were outnumbered, climbed back into their tank. They quickly shut the hatch and opened fire using their machine gun. Meanwhile, Sereda was on the tank. He hacked away the gun barrel with all his might using his ax, successfully bending it.
All panicking, the Nazi troops tried to restart their tank and beat a hasty retreat. Sereda, with quick thinking, used a tarp to stuff the peephole so that the Germans could not see what was going on outside their tank. If they could, they would see a lone cook hammering on the tank with his ax and calling for his comrades to bring him a tank grenade. The thing was, there really were no comrades to hand him the grenade that he was asking for, nor were there explosives that he could use to disable or destroy the tank, but the Germans did not know that. Under the impression that they were outnumbered, the Nazis surrendered.
Sereda ordered them to hop out from the tank one at a time and then tie each other up. When Sereda’s superiors returned, they were impressed at what the cook had served them. Not doing him any favors, Sereda was taken off kitchen detail as a cook and made into a scout.
Just a few weeks later, the cook-turned-scout came across another German tank that was pursuing a group of Soviet soldiers. Sereda took the opportunity to sneak up to the tank and throw a hand grenade down the commander’s hatch when they stopped briefly to orient themselves. He successfully killed the crew, and before anyone could react, Sereda had already climbed into the tank and fired its main gun. He managed to kill about a dozen Germans and forced the rest to surrender.
Soon, he was made a platoon leader of the 4th Infantry Regiment, 46th Infantry Division of the 1st Shock Army. He was also there during the Siege of Leningrad from October 10 until November 23.
He was again promoted as a company commander of the 7th Infantry Regiment, 185th Infantry Division of the 30th Army and saw action at the Battle of Moscow from November 27 until January 5.
He was already a lieutenant by the time he was discharged in 1945. He received the award Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin, among other decorations. He was probably luckier just to have survived.
Interestingly enough, he never got any medals for his cooking.