At 1 a.m. on Dec. 12, 1943, Col. Leonid Brezhnev's unit was under German attack with just one machine gun and a few rifles to defend it.
'As the Germans made another dash, the machine gun opened fire again, and then suddenly was still,' Brezhnev wrote.
'Only the thin line of men were now firing. The Germans were no longer dropping to the ground -- goading themselves on with shouts and constant submachine gun fire, they were now running towards our trench without even bothering to keep close to the ground.
'But still no sound from our machine gun. I caught sight of a soldier dragging the dead machine gunner off to the side.
'Without wasting a single precious second, I rushed towards the machine gun.'
Brezhnev, chief of the Soviet 18th Army's Political Department, held the Germans at bay with his prompt action, spraying the attackers with machine gun bullets until fresh Soviet troops arrived to reinforce the critical position.
That episode is recounted in 'Malaya Zemlya,' part one of Brezhnev's trilogy of autobiographical writings. They deal with his role in World War II, the post-war reconstruction of a ravaged country and the breaking open of new agricultural lands, the so-called Virgin Lands of Kazakhstan.
The title of 'Malaya Zemlya' is taken from the Russian words meaning 'little land.' It refers to the name of a small strategic salient into the Black Sea near Novorossisk and the Crimean peninsula which the 18th Army successfully defended against German attack for 225 days.
The authorship of these memoirs has been called into doubt. But whoever wrote them, they at least give a clear picture of how Brezhnev saw himself -- or would like others to see him.
The picture that emerges is alternately one of a courageous man of action, as in the machine gun episode, a hard-nosed decision-maker, a firm but compassionate administrator capable of sharing a joke and dealing with people, a hard-working and dynamic leader.
Above all, Brezhnev is portrayed in these memoirs, all published in 1978, as a confirmed Communist, faithful to the ideals of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin and a devout patriot -- the perfect model of the new Soviet man.
'Malaya Zemlya' also recalls the moment when he learned the Soviet Union was at war with Nazi Germany.
'It was at that moment that I, as a Communist, firmly and irrevocably made up my mind as to where I was supposed to be. I addressed a request to the Central Committee that I be sent to the front - and my request was granted on the same day. I was placed at the disposal of the headquarters of the Southern Front.
'I am thankful to the Central Committee of our party for understanding my wish to be with the army in the field from the initial days of the war. I am thankful for the fact that in 1943, when part of our country had been liberated, the party complied with my request that I not be recalled along with several other front-line party workers who were being sent for executive work to the rear.
'I am also thankful that in 1944 the party accepted my request that I not be promoted to a higher post which would have taken me out of direct military action, and that I remained with the 18th Assault Army to the end of the war.
'I was guided by a single thought -- to defend our land, to battle against the enemy tooth and nail, to see the war out to the end, to total victory. This was the only way that peace could return to Earth.'
When that victory was achieved, the Soviet Union faced the task of rebuilding a land wasted by war, and Brezhnev was dispatched as regional first secretary to the steel town of Zaporozhye in his native Ukraine.
'I arrived in military uniform, for I had not yet been demobilized after the Great Patriotic War,' he recalls in the second of his short books, 'Rebirth.' 'I walked around the works till darkness fell. On all sides I could see nothing but shattered concrete, broken bricks, piles of rubble and twisted girders. It was a depressing sight.'
Not one to shirk a challenge, Brezhnev threw himself into his work.
'Never before had I felt so keen and overwhelming a sense of responsibility to the party and the people for the state of affairs in an entire region. What was expected of me was not simply that I should work to the best of my abilities, but that I should bring about perceptible shifts and thorough changes.
'What was expected was a new style in the work of the entire region and party organization, a sharp acceleration in the rates of construction work at a number of enterprises, first and foremost at the Zaporozhye Iron and Steel Works. I was fully aware that the task was important to the state, not only in the economic but also in the political sense.'
Brezhnev's efforts were crowned with success two years later. 'The alarm from the main building of the heat and power station announced the rebirth of the Zaporozhye Iron and Steel Works. The siren brought all the people out onto the streets -- there were embraces and tears of joy on all sides.
'The next day (June 30, 1947) saw the first tap of cast iron, so dear to us all. How well I remember that day.' The son of a steelworker, Brezhnev had followed in his father's footsteps before embarking on a career as a land surveyor and then as a party official.
It was not all smooth sailing, however, and Brezhnev had to take his share of criticism from above, which in the 1940s meant the wrath of Josef Stalin. He recalls the day the Zaporozhye works were criticized in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda.
'In fact, J.V. Stalin did call me up that night, and the conversation we had was a serious one,' Brezhnev said.
Stalin, anxious to build up his country's defense potential with the onset of the Cold War, ordered dramatic new production targets for the entire Soviet heavy industry complex, including the Zaporozhye steel works.
When Brezhnev's plant failed to meet the drastically changed production schedules, the Central Committee issued a harshly critical statement.
'Although I had actually taken up my duties at the end of the previous year and could have claimed that none of the blame lay on me, I had to accept the full burden of responsibility,' Brezhnev wrote.
'This is another feature of the work of a Regional Committee's first secretary: As a leader and a Communist, he cannot find excuses for not having been there during such-and-such an event, plead ignorance of something or claim that other comrades bear the responsibility.
'From the moment he has assumed leadership of the regional party organization, the first secretary carries responsibility for everything,' Brezhnev wrote.
After a spell as first secretary in the small agricultural republic of Moldavia, Brezhnev faced a new challenge in 1954 when he was dispatched to develop agriculture in Kazakhstan by Nikita Khrushchev, the man he was to replace as Communist Party first secretary 10 years later.
In the third volume of his memoirs, which he titled 'Virgin Lands,' Brezhnev decribed the task of bringing 100,000 square miles of previously uncultivated Central Asian steppeland under the plow.
'The virgin lands had to produce a grain harvest that very autumn. That autumn, without fail. So once again, for the nth time, an abrupt change occurred in my life.'
Inevitably, the job brought Brezhnev into occasional conflict with the irascible Khrushchev. One day, grain transport was being discussed for the Kustanai region of Kazakhstan. Most officials favored building a road network.
'N.S. Khrushchev, however, maintained that it would be more expedient to build several narrow-gauge railways, to which, so he claimed, the grain could be brought from the outlying districts,' Brezhnev writes.
'No arguments against this idea were taken into consideration.
'So a narrow-gauge line from Kustanai to Uritskoye was laid, and then another, from Yesil to Turgai. This was a mistake. Neither of the lines came up to expectations as a means of transporting grain and both were soon dismantled.'
Brezhnev achieved his task, recalling that in 1954 Kazakhstan actually overfulfilled its cultivation plan. But it was hard work and it took its toll.
Somewhat surprisingly for a man whose last years were constantly dogged by rumors of his failing health, Brezhnev chose the publication of 'Virgin Lands' to reveal that he suffered a heart attack as long ago as 1954.
'I was on the road all the time, slept in snatches, ate what was going,' he wrote. 'And one day in Tselinograd I suddenly felt ill. When I came to, I was lying on a stretcher. Once before this I had been taken from Semipalatinsk to Alma-Ata with a heart attack. I had to rest up at home, fending off the doctors, who kept trying to get me into a hospital.
'I used to joke my way out of it: Once you get hold of me, you'll keep me for good. But the real point was that I had no time to be ill,' Brezhnev wrote