This is from Red Cavalry and Other Stories by Isaac Babel. Brutal and realistic, set in the Soviet-Polish war, it was immensely popular in the USSR. Even today is considered a masterpiece of Russian literature.
Earlier in the story, Trutnov - a wounded young Soviet commander wantonly kills two Polish POWs. Fearing execution he decides to commit suicide.
The sqaudron leader showed us four dots in the sky, four bombers sailing through the radiant, swan-like clouds. These were planes from the air squadron of Major Faunt Le Roy, large armoured planes.
'To horse!' the platoon commanders shouted, at the sight of them. They led the squadron over towards the forest at a trot, but Trunov did not go with his squadron. He remained near the station building, leaned against the wall and fell silent. Andryushka Vosmiletov and two machine-gunners, two barefoot lads in crimson riding-breeches, stood beside him, fussing anxiously. [...]
In gigantic muzhik letters Trunov wrote on an obliquely torn-out sheet of paper: 'It being my duty to perish this day,' he wrote, 'I find it my duty to add two dead to the possible defeat of the enemy and at the same time give command to Semyon Golov, the platoon commander...'
He sealed the letter, sat down on the ground and, putting his back into the job, pulled off his boots. 'Make good use of them,' he said, giving the machine-gunners the dispatch and the boots. 'Make good use of them, those boots are new...'
'Good luck to you, commander,' the machine-gunners muttered back to him, shifting from leg to leg and delaying their departure. 'And goad luck to you,' said Trunov, 'one way or the other, lads,' and he walked towards the machine-gun that stood on a hillock near the station hut. There waiting for him was Andryushka Vosmiletov, the rag-and-bone man.
'One way or the other,' Trunov said to him, proceeding to aim the machine-gun, 'are you going to stay with me for a bit, eh, Audrey?.' 'Oh Lord Jesus,' Andryushka replied fearfully, uttered a sob, turned white and began to laugh, `by the banner of the mother of Lord Jesus!...' And he began to aim the second machine-gun at the planes.
But the planes had begun to climb ever more steeply above the station, they crackled fussily in the heights, descended, described arcs, and the sun lay, a pink ray, on the yellow lustre of their wings. By now we, the fourth squadron, were in the forest. There in the forest we waited for the end of the unequal battle between Pashka Trunov and the American air-force major, Reginald Faunt Le Roy.
The major and his three bomb-throwers displayed great ability in this battle. They descended to three hundred metres and blasted first Andryushka and then Trunov with their machine-guns. None of the many cartridges discharged by our men caused the Americans any harm; they flew off to the side without noticing the squadron that was hidden in the forest. And so, after half an hour's wait, we were able to go and collect the corpses. The body of Andryushka Vosmiktov was picked up by two relatives of his who served in our squadron, while Trunov, our dead commander, we took to Gothic Sokal and buried him in a ceremonial spot there, in the public gardens, in a flower-bed, in the middle of the town.
This story, unlike many of the others is not literary fiction. From Europe by Norman Davis:
In Squadron Leader Trunov Babel' tells the story of a macho Cossack commander who went out one day to shoot down one of the American volunteer pilots who were fighting for the Poles.
The memoirs of the American ‘Kościuszko Squadron', under Col. Cedric E. Fauntleroy, agree exactly with Babel''s account. They relate how a foolhardy Soviet machine-gunner kept firing at the American planes from an unprotected clearing, and how one of them peeled off, executed a low-level run, and shot him to pieces.
Edited by wm., 06 October 2016 - 09:05 AM.