Grigory Gershuni woke up after a mere four or five hours of sleep, after the guard outside had banged on his door. He had spent six years in this miserable hell-hole, waiting for his execution which by now, he felt, would be a liberation. He had been arrested almost immediately after the ascension of Tsar Nicholas II for alleged acts of terrorism and revolutionary activities and had been sentenced to death in a quick trail. Then he had been transferred here by train in a cattle wagon. The rails that had brought him here, he reflected, were built on the bones of the Tsar’s opponents. Upon his arrival he had been beaten and abused and had been forced to mine gold and build roads and railroads for the Tsar in the cold plains of Siberia. But the female prisoners were worse off as the guards weren’t much more than thugs. ‘They are worse than some of the offenders locked away in this place and here they can let their lusts go free.’, Grigory thought. Only the prison ward seemed to be a fair man and Grigory pitied him that he had been ‘promoted’ to lead this desolate god forsaken place. Six years here had done Gershuni no good. He was a lice infested fleabag who was a shadow of his former self. He had lost half of his weight. A small hatch in the door opened and breakfast was shoved in on a metal plate.
“Breakfast.”, the guard shouted and Grigory could hear through the thin walls how the other prisoners woke up, terribly stiff from a night on the floor or a wooden bunk with only a thin blanket. Grigory picked up the plate.
‘The same shit again. Stew.’, Grigory thought. ‘Oh well, after a time you don’t notice the taste.’
He had been fed the same three times a day for the last six years and it was a miracle that he had lived for so long on such a meagre diet. Many people died of malnutrition or diseases such as dysentery, cholera and typhus, because their immune systems were weakened so disease can ravage their body.
One of the other prisoners was crying. ‘Must be a new guy. The food is indeed crappy enough to cry about.’, Grigory though with a wry smile. He had heard the train arrive yesterday evening. It would be his last breakfast and he thanked God even though he wasn’t religious.
“All right, time to go.”, the guard shouted. “Any last wishes?”
“Yes, don’t speak to me.”, Grigory said. He hated this particular guard. The guard pushed him with his truncheon.
“Hey, that hurt!”
Grigory was marched toward the gallows on the square where the executioner was waiting.
“Grigory Gershuni, you have been judged for treason, revolutionary acts against the state and acts of terrorism. For this you shall be sentenced to death. May God have mercy upon your soul!”, the prison ward announced.
‘God has long since left this country.’, Gershuni thought, although the Tsar had left the churches alone. Even so, they were now his instrument. It would be his last thought as he fell to his death and was whisked out of existence.
It was the middle of winter and Stalin/Nicholas and his wife were dressed in long fur coats and were on an inspection of their domain by sleigh, while the children were playing in the snow. He had last seen Joseph building a snow fortress where he was playing soldier, inspired by the stories that his father had told him of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. In the meantime, the twins and their youngest daughter where inside, learning to become ladies. Stalin/Nicholas had to say that being a woman on court was much more difficult than being a man as women had to live up to many more expectations. He had seen first hand the stress that his wife, the Tsarina, suffered from.
His son was taking after his father and grandfather. He was already large for his age, he had only just turned four in December. He was also intelligent and had the same aptitude for learning his father had. Stalin/Nicholas was somewhat worried about the mean streak he had over him although it reminded him of his own childhood. It would make him a good ruler as he grew older, more adult and able to control himself. Stalin/Nicholas had been relieved to know that the boy was healthy. He knew that had history been allowed to take its course, he would have had a haemophiliac for a son.
The girls were intelligent as well, although they were much more sensitive. If they had been more ruthless they would have made good rulers, but they weren’t and the thought of changing the succession laws had never even crossed his mind once. They stayed in during the winter cold and watched as Joseph played outside with other boys and Stalin/Nicholas had a somewhat troubled relationship with them as they found him boring, which irritated him. They got along well with their mother and the servants though, whereas Joseph was more authoritarian. Stalin/Nicholas recalled how he had demanded that someone played with him and chuckled. The twins had been appropriately named Catharina and Anna, the eldest after his wife from his past life and Tsarina Catherine the Great and the second-born after another Tsarina, a niece of Peter II. The twins were three years old and the youngest girl, Tatyana, was doing well too and would soon turn two. He looked at his wife who had dozed off and she was pregnant again. They arrived back at the palace after a visit to the village of the palace’s personnel which Alix had grown fond of as it was so idyllic and the Imperial Guard barracks.
“Papa, papa, look what I made.”, Joseph shouted as he grabbed his father’s hand.
“Well done my boy. What battle did you play today? What general were you?”, Stalin/Nicholas asked with a genuine smile.
“I see the friend you brought is crying.”
“Yes, I made him play Napoleon and I accidentally hit him with a snowball in his face.”, Joseph said without emotion. “What a whiner.”, he added.
“Now, now.”, Alix said as she attended to Joseph’s classmate. “Snowballs can be hard. They can turn into ice.”
Joseph’s mean streak unsettled her but Stalin/Nicholas was not worried. His line was secure and the boy seemed to take after his more positive traits and would be a good ruler. All was well and the Tsar smiled.
Vladimir Fedorov had only barely graduated from the Mikhailovskaya Artillery Academy and he already had a commission from the Ministry of Defence. He had an aptitude for engineering and he was ordered to design an ‘assault rifle’. The combat of the future would be combat in close quarters, about 200-400 metres. They had requested a rather awkward rifle. The result was a semi-automatic rifle with 7.69x39 mm rounds and no bolt. The rifle was indeed less accurate at long ranges but it had little in terms of recoil and could do much more damage than any bolt-action rifle.
Its most modern feature was its modes of fire which other weapons didn’t have. They could fire single shots, bursts or full automatic. Although lighter than other automatic weapons of the day, it was still heavier than the AK-47 which Stalin/Nicholas had in mind due to the limitations of 1900 technology. It would have to do. The result would become known as the Fedorov Avtomat. He hoped it would work and that the soldiers who would use it would like it. It was almost finished.
Colonel Drago Popov strode onto the field where a cart packed with crates had been parked. Sergeant Igor Vladimirov watched curiously as the men unloaded the mysterious crates with unknown content. Colonel Drago was a very strict, disciplined man and Igor had only made it just in time, narrowly avoiding a punitive march of some 20 miles.
“This, men is the Fedorov Avtomat. It makes existing rifles obsolete and it will be your friend from now on so maintain it well.”, the colonel said.
He picked up one of the assault rifles from the makeshift table and fired on full automatic. Igor and his men were flabbergasted.
“It can fire single shots, bursts or full automatic. It is recommended that you fire either single shots or bursts as automatic firing doesn’t improve accuracy and you run out of bullets real fast.”, the colonel continued.
“Now step forwards and receive your gun.”, he finished.
“Have you noticed how strange these rounds are, soldier?”, Lieutenant Egorov asked. Vladimirov was a hunter and knew a thing or two about rifles.
“Yes, these bullets are some sort of intermediate round between rifle bullets and pistol rounds. There should be less recoil but I don’t think they will do much good in long range combat.”, Igor said.
“I figured as much.”, the lieutenant said as he took a good look at his new weapon, “These should give us a good shot at those Yellows. They’re making noise about Manchuria.”
“It depends. Maybe they won’t fight us. They couldn’t possibly beat us when we have these.”, Egorov responded with a grin.
In the meantime, something was going on on the artillery range half a mile away. Lieutenant Kasov waited as the men got ready for artillery training with the new gun which, unbeknownst to him, was a more or less direct copy of the French 75. Stalin/Nicholas knew of things to come in warfare and trends that had proven effective in his day such as assault rifles and wanted to be ready. He was not a weapons designer but had an idea of what he wanted and had handed his Minister of Defence a set of rough drafts and demands of weapons he wanted which he in turn had passed down the line. The French 75 was one of the things he wanted as it would give his artillery an advantage over Japanese artillery. Everyone had gathered on the field and Kasov started to speak.
“This, men, is the new 75 mm field gun. It is innovative as it has, for the first time in artillery history, a hydro-pneumatic recoil mechanism, allowing for accurate and fast firing.” Kasov paused.
“You, you and you, come over here.”, he said as he pointed at three men, “You’ll be my volunteers for this little demonstration.”
The men acted quickly and slammed a shell and propellant into the breach and shut it.
“Initiate fire mission. Fire.”, Kasov ordered. They fired a staggering fifteen rounds in one minute and the men were catching flies.
“Excuse me sir? When do we start training with these?”
The lieutenant smiled. “Today.”
→ Forward to Chapter 5.