I am a participant of one war - the Great Patriotic War. I was there from July 3, 1941, and until May of '46. In essence, the war was a constant struggle for survival for me, especially in those extreme conditions in which my life passed, although not always with a weapon in hands. I want to tell a little about that life.
On June 22nd I was in the city of Feodosia, where we were building a secret installation. I lived in the Astoria hotel. I woke up at 10 - no one was around. I went outside and found out that the war had started. Well, how I felt about that... Probably, same as all the Soviet people - I was uneasy, because my parents lived close to the western border. Besides that, I understood what war was about because I had gone through military service as a combat engineer. That evening I was already on board a train that rushed me to Moscow. In Moscow I was immediately mobilized for bomb shelter construction. An on July 3rd, after a speech by Comrade Stalin, all my buddies went to sign up for the people's militia, but I was a professional serviceman - I had a mobilization assignment from the military commissariat to come only at the special summons, and couldn't go with them. My buddies said: "Dan'ka, what the hell?! We're all going! And you? Let's go!" The director said: "Danil, how can you? All your comrades are going, and you're not?" So I went into this so-called militia. When they found out that I was an NCO, they appointed me a sergeant major of a separate combat engineer company. I was given approximately 300 men, almost all of them with higher education, we even had doctors of sciences, and poets, and writers, and composers - anyone, but we didn't have any workers. I instantly formed them up - roared: "Fall in!" - and they immediately felt that this was a sergeant major that had gone through professional service in front of them. And so, I formed them up and led them to the barber, and despite the protests and malicious challenges they all got haircuts. Then they were taken to the bathhouse. And everything fell into place - it really became an engineer battalion, led by a real sergeant major.
On July 4th or 5th we set out from Moscow over the Mozhaisk highway. We marched 30 km to the village of Tolstopaltsevo and made our camp there. The army life began: learning, mastering weapons, mastering ammunition, explosive materials. One time I was called to the divisional engineer, my pal Zinoviy Levin, who said: "Dania, you have to go to the Ivanovo oblast (oblast was an administrative division in USSR - trans.) and receive 6 tons of explosives there. Also, get about 150-200 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines and 5-6 field kitchens." I said: "What will you give me?" He: "You'll get a platoon of soldiers and a GAZ AA. We sat into a car and I asked: "What am I supposed to use to get all of that stuff back?!" They tell me: "What kind of an engineer are you if you can't figure out how to deliver the cargo?!"
How I found myself in Podolsk - I have no idea, because the road to Ivanovo is completely different, but for some reason we took a different route and found ourselves in Podolsk. I saw a sign while driving through Podolsk: "Autobase", and an idea crossed my mind. I entered the office of that autobase's director, put my revolver on the table (I didn't even have a holster, the revolver was stuck behind my belt) and said: "Listen. You sit here, in the rear, eat well, and we are fighting!" - although we hadn't fought, I pretended that I was an experienced soldier already. He said: "What do you need?" I said: "We need a minimum of 12 trucks, to go and pick up explosives." He said: "Where am I supposed to get them?! I got assignments!" I gave an order: "Do not let a single car out, but let any car in!" I locked him in his office, posted a guard, came outside, assembled all drivers, and said: "Guys, I have 2 sacks of dried sausages, 2 sacks of bread, half a sack of sugar and canned goods. I don't have vodka. We need to drive to Ivanovo oblast and receive explosives and other materials needed for the front. Who's going?" Everyone shouted: "We'll go!" This way I assembled 15 trucks. The director was screaming out of the window: "Scoundrels! You'll be prosecuted!" I left with this cavalcade, drove through the entire Moscow, arrived at the Ivanovo oblast. There we loaded up and returned back to our unit the next morning. I have to mention that while we were loading I grabbed two cases of flashlights without any paperwork. When I arrived at my company, I reported everything that occurred to the company commander. He said:
"You know what? Don't turn this case of flashlights in at the engineering stockpile, and give it to us."
"Comrade company commander, I don't have the right" - I said.
"I order you!" - he started raising his voice.
"I will not obey."
"Repeat the order: leave one case of flashlights!"
"I will not repeat the order!"
"I will have you shot right now!"
He took out his Parabellum, and I saw foam on his lips, he was pounding the floor and yelling:
"Repeat the order!"
I threw open my uniform, tearing it, screaming:
"Go ahead and shoot! But I'm not going to repeat the order!"
He threw the gun and his hat on the floor and started pounding them with his feet, but I turned around and left. There the story ended, but I was relieved of my post and stopped being the company's sergeant major. I was put into a platoon with my pal Vasia Karpenko.
Then we were transferred to a village of Pupovo in the Smolensk oblast. There I participated in the capture of three pilots, whose plane was downed by our AA guns. They were caught and taken to the division's HQ. They entered there in a cocky manner - threw their arms out, yelled: "Heil Hitler!" That made a colossal impression on me: how could it be that a prisoner would behave in such way?
After a day some really tough fighter with 3 stripes (lieutenant colonel - Artem Drabkin) arrived, assembled the entire company, and said: "Anyone with a secondary or higher education, 2 steps forward!" I did.
"Comrades, you're going to a school to get the rank according to your profession. You there, who are you?"
"I'm a construction engineer" - I said.
"Then you'll become a military construction engineer, 3rd rank."
That's great. They put us in the trucks and drove to the village of Korni near Viazma. There we 36 men were put into the first machine gun platoon, first company, first battalion. I said: "What machine gunner?! What are you doing?! I came to become a military engineer?!" "Silence! No talking!" In the evening I wrote a report, that I had been lied to. They wrote on that report in reply: "Comrade Zlatkin. The country needs machine gunners."
The drilling began - starting at 6 in the morning and until evening the rifle didn't leave my shoulder, we goose stepped, sang, clicked empty breech blocks - that's how they trained us to be machine gunners. And the food - tea with sugar in the morning, with a slice of bread; at midday, for dinner, some skilly which didn't have absolutely anything in it, not even a single potato, and kasha (a dish of cooked grain - trans.), and for supper - sugar with a slice of bread. In 10 days we all got so emaciated that we could barely walk. I kept asking: "When will we finally learn about machine guns? Where are those machine guns?" They said: "Silence! None of your business! No arguments! We'll do what the superiors order!" Well, that really astounded me then...
One evening I got out of a dugout to take a leak and saw my guys eating potatoes. My God - potatoes! I asked: "Where did you get them?" "Well, from the cook. In the kitchen." I ran to that cook: "How can I get potatoes from you?" He said: "Potatoes... that has to be earned." I said: "I want to earn them! I'm starving!" "You know what" - he said - "come tomorrow, after dark - carry the firewood, saw, cut it, so that at 5 in the morning, when I come in, water is boiling. Understood?" "Understood." I really did spend the entire night carrying that firewood up from the river, sawed it with a hand saw, cut it with an axe which kept flying off the handle, and by 5 in the morning I had everything burning and water boiling. He saw that, says: "Well done! Alone, but look at how you worked! I wouldn't get 2-3 people to work like that. You are a young, good lad, I am giving you the potatoes. Take them." I said: "How many can I take?" "Take as many as will fit." And I had that short cavalry bekesh (a type of coat - trans.) on me. I stuffed both of its pockets with the potatoes - but that didn't seem enough to me. I took out a Finnish knife, made another cut, and stuffed the potatoes around myself. So I was walking, feeling happy, thinking: "Now I'll fry some, or bake them in the coals." Suddenly there was some officer with three stripes. He saw me and said:
"Comrade student, to me!"
I approached. He grabbed me by my bekesh and said:
"What's in here?"
"No, not stolen - earned."
"You're lying, swine, you stole it! No one could earn it, we're not such unit where you earn things! You must've stolen it!"
We entered the mess hall, where the soldiers were having breakfast at that time. Everyone was drinking that "tea" - simply boiled water with sugar and a slice of bread. He addressed them:
"Comrades soldiers, the Germans get 200 grams of bread per day and fight! And how they fight! But you get 500 grams, but there are bandits and thieves among you, who rob you and eat your food. Here, look!"
He started pulling the potatoes from my pocket and knocking them on the table. Pulled one out - knocked, pulled out - knocked, and kept repeating:
"You see this bandit! This is your potato! I must be on your table!"
Well, the soldiers obviously started murmuring when this potato mountain appeared. He yelled at me:
"Get on top of the table!" I got up on the table.
"Take the star off your cap!" I took it off.
"Take off the belt" I took it off.
"Take off the puttees." I took them off.
"In the name of the Russian Federative Soviet Republic I sentence the bandit and pillager to be shot!"
Took out his sidearm and aimed at me. At that point I went blind. I couldn't see anything, I couldn't hear anything, I only stood firmly on my feet. I was thinking: "That's it, now a shot is going to sound." I was prepared for anything. A torturous period of time passed, I don't know how long. I didn't hear that shot, but kept standing doggedly. Somebody pulled my arm - once, twice. I opened my eyes and saw the brigade commander to whom I had sent my report. He quietly told me: "Get off", and I fell, losing consciousness. The same solicitous colonel brought me round, put my star back on, put on my belt, and said "Put the puttees on yourself." I bent down, put on the puttees. He said: "Take the potatoes." I took the potatoes, he put his arm around me, and we left. Complete silence: all soldiers stood and looked at us, and we left, escorted by these stares. He asked me quietly: "Where did you get the potatoes?" I started crying. That was the limit of my nerves, I cried and told him where I got the potatoes. He kissed me in the head and said: "Son, the hard life has begun. Go, eat your potatoes."
After three days they put us in a freight car and drove us somewhere. There were approximately 60 or 80 men stuffed in the car - no way to turn! Where they were taking us - no one knew. Finally we got out. We could hear explosions and small arms fire somewhere within a kilometer. A wounded soldier approached. We asked:
"Man, who's there?"
"Well, they say, the Germans made an airborne landing."
"And where are we?"
"There's the river Plotva nearby. Somewhere here, not far, is Borodino. And this is the village of Myshkino."
Great. I remembered - Myshkino.
In the evening they assembled us in a bathhouse. Maybe 20 men were stuffed in there. Some senior sergeant was standing and saying: "Here, comrades, is the latest Degtiarev heavy machine gun before you. It must be serviced by 4 men: one carries the barrel, another carries these wheels, and 2 more carriers for the ammo. Understood? You! (pointed at me), you'll be the Number One! Understood? Here, take the barrel." I took the barrel. "And you," - he said to someone not from my platoon - "you're Number Two." Gave him the wheels. He appointed two more as carriers - they took the cartridges. "In order to fire you have to press this, push this, pull here, insert this, and shoot - understood?!" Everyone shouted: "Understood!!" And none of us understood anything at all. So with such knowledge of the machine gun we set out in the direction of the frontline, and were immediately fired upon, that is I heard the singing of bullets. I'm not a coward, on the contrary, I was a daredevil, but there I felt death - I crouched, my hands and legs shook, I couldn't get up, I felt that everything was shooting at me, by why wasn't I getting hit?! I looked around - my Number Two was gone, no ammo carriers, I was alone with the barrel, but I also had the 10 shot SVT rifle, and a satchel, and a gas mask, and an axe, and the devil knows what was hanging on me. In all, my accoutrements weighed 32 kg! I lay down. At that time some captain yelled: "Scum, forward, for the Motherland! For Stalin!" And stuck the revolver to the back of my head. I yelled: "Forward!" But who's behind me?! Nobody... Me and him - the two of us. We ran. And where were all our people?.. I looked. They were lying around. Basically, they took us to an open field, while the Germans were hiding behind a village. It wasn't a battle, it was simply slaughter: we were lying on the bare ground, not seeing the enemy, but the enemy saw us and didn't let anyone at all get up. And their planes were also flying overhead, shooting people on the move, a plane's machine gun burst passed by me. I fell on the ground again, then raised my hand, yelled to somebody, and I had no idea who I was screaming to: "Forward! For the Motherland! For Stalin!" At that time I got hit in my right hand. I didn't understand what that hit was, but maybe out of fear, or out of surprise, I lost consciousness. And this is called my first battle.
I awoke at night. It was very cold - this happened on October 15, 1941. I froze completely. I got up, but I didn't have boots on - someone took off my boots and I only wore foot bindings. I looked - I had 2 fingers broken, the blood clotted on them. I tore my shirt, somehow bandaged the wound. None of us had first aid kits. Although, there had been rubbing fluid in the gas mask, but we drank all of it before we got to the frontline, since it was based on alcohol. We filtered this fluid through cement or through coals, and we got excellent white alcohol. When I awoke, I felt hungry, but I didn't have anything - for 2 days they gave us 2 rusks and 2 salted fishes...
When I got up, I went looking for friendly forces. Saw bodies of killed soldiers lying around. I found a flask with frozen water on one of them, a rusk on another, then took the boots off another one. Wanted to take somebody's great coat, but I saw a man move. He said:
"Friend, help me."
"Who are you?" - I said.
"What happened to you?"
"I was wounded in the knee. Help me, buddy."
He was older than me and apparently had more experience, I found that out later. He said:
"You know, the Germans passed, they took both of us for dead, took off your boots. I saw." "What, does that mean we're in an encirclement?!"
"Not only encircled, we're on the German territory now."
"Petia, we have to get out somehow!"
"You take me to the haystack."
He was very heavy, but I dragged him approximately 150 meters to that haystack, then we dug a hole in there, crawled inside. The water melted, we drank it, ate the rusk, and he said: "There is a village opposite us. Cross the river, then go to the first house and ask for some grub." But I couldn't swim. Found two logs, tied them with twigs, crossed the river on that raft. Knocked on a door. An old man, when he saw me, exclaimed: "Son, dear, get out, the village is full of Germans." I said: "Grandfather, we need to eat, I'm not alone, I have a wounded comrade." He said: "Hold on, I'll get something, you know how we live." Basically, he gave us food and advice on how to get to our side. At night, Peter and I set out. I said: "Petia, I can't carry you. I don't have the strength left. At least hop on one foot." He started hopping, leaning on me. This way we reached the river, crossed it, wet and cold. We barely walked some 200 meters, suddenly: "Halt, who goes there?" And they grabbed us and we were immediately separated. In that wet, frost-covered condition I entered a house. A captain sat inside, he took out his revolver and put it on the table:
"Sit!" - (familiarly, of course) I sat down.
"Who are you?"
I told him who I was.
"You're lying! That's not you. You tell me how you were recruited (by enemy intelligence, that is - trans.)" - Now I understood!
"Tell me, am I in the NKVD?" - I said.
"What NKVD?! What business is it of yours where you are?! You are in the Red Army, you understand?"
"Tell me who recruited you, with what assignment you came to us? Who fixed you with the light wound? But don't lie, or I'm going to shoot you right now!" - He approached me with the revolver and stuck the barrel in my teeth. Tore my lip - one time, another...
"Why are you beating me?! I'll talk." - I said.
"Aha, good lad!" - And hit my lip again, tore it, blood was pouring out.
"What do you want me tell you?"
"What, you're still dissembling?! You said you would talk!"
"Yes, I'll talk, just tell me what you want me to tell you?!"
"Who recruited you? Where are your accomplices? Your comrade told us that you had been recruited in Frankfurt-on-Oder to kill commissars! Tell me, who recruited you? What is your assignment?" - I was taken aback, I didn't realize the seriousness it was approaching. "What comrade told you?"
I was thinking: "What a scoundrel! How could he say that! I saved him from death, dragged him out! And that's what I get!" At that time some colonel entered. I turned to him. Said:
"Comrade colonel, save me, what's going on!?"
"Who knows you in Moscow?" - he said.
And suddenly it came to me. My brother was in charge of the first department in the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office of RKKA USSR. I said:
"My brother is such and such."
"What's his last name?"
"Brainer, Lev Markovich."
"One minute, hold on. Comrade captain, stop the interrogation."
He returned in 15 minutes: "Let him go, on my responsibility." He led me out, and there was my Pet'ka standing, we hugged, kissed. He said: "Dan'ka, how could you slander me with such things?" I said: "What things?" "Well, you said that you and me had been recruited in Frankfurt-on-Oder." I said: "Pet'ka, they told me the same thing. That you said it." In short, they drove us to Borodino because we were wounded, loaded us into a passenger car and we took off for Moscow. And Pet'ka kept approaching old women on the way. He was all wrapped up, he didn't even have a cap, put some scarf or a kerchief on his head, and shouted: "Mother, give us something to eat!" I was ashamed, I was saying: "Petia!" But he: "Mother, give us food!" And the old women tore their treasures, which they were supposed to eat themselves, away with shaking hands, and gave him maybe a slice of bread. He would come back and share with me. This way we reached the Belorussian Railway Station (in Moscow - trans.). At the station the police pulled me out on their hands and carried me to the general hall and set me down there. Then we were assigned to a hospital, and in 2 days we were loaded into a train which rushed us to the Urals.
|Recorded by:||Elena Siniavskaia|
|Edited by:||Artem Drabkin|
|Translated by:||Oleg Sheremet|
|Photo from the archive of D.F. Zlatkin|
In the beginning of 1943 I became a secret service officer in the intelligence department of the 19th Army HQ on the Karelian Front. Our main task was the formation of reconnaissance groups of 10-20 men, which we sent every 3-4 days into night raids behind enemy lines to capture a "tongue" (In Russian intelligence jargon, an enemy soldier captured for interrogation - trans.). We had to know everything, the entire situation at the front. Otherwise, if the intelligence department doesn't have any data, and doesn't report to the commander, then such commander and such intelligence are worthless. We knew everything about the enemy! And, as we supposed, the enemy knew about us. But we knew more! Why? I'll explain. The thing is that our Russian soldier knew the name of the company commander well, maybe the battalion commander, but his regiment commander, or the division commander - not on his life. The Germans knew the names of platoon commanders of the neighboring divisions. And as for their commanders, they not only knew their names, but where each one lived, what family he had, if he was a good or a bad person. After all, a commander's profile is an important matter for troops which are planning an offensive.
In one sector of the front there were 2 divisions opposite us, one of them was commanded by General von Ditmar, about whom I'll tell later, and the other by General Rubel. Von Ditmar was called away, he later married Magda Goebbels's sister, and General Ratschi was sent to replace him. In short, General Rubel was a self-important general who only acknowledged officers, didn't think of soldiers as human beings and treated them scornfully. As to General Ratschi, his nickname was Ratschi-bum - ball lightning. He unexpectedly showed up to inspect his units and first of all visited the latrine, then the mess hall, and yelled at everyone if he found deficiencies. His soldiers thought the world of him, and the officers hated him. So, which sector should we have chosen for an offensive? Of course, the sector where the soldiers didn't like their commander, and wouldn't have wanted to sacrifice their lives for him - that's why we intelligence officers needed the profile. We had a complete profile for every commander, down to platoon level.
And with General von Ditmar we had a most interesting encounter! The General Staff requested us for his profile, especially to find his photo. All our searches did not produce any result. The prisoners readily talked about him: "Yes, there was such a general. He is a large land holder." And absolutely nothing more. The reconnaissance platoon of one of the regiments of the 152nd Rifle Division was commanded by Lieutenant Ivan Lukich Kobets, now he's a colonel and my dear friend (the interview with Colonel I.L.Kobets will soon be published on this site - Artem Drabkin). He was given an assignment to capture a tongue. The scouts went deep into enemy rear, 20-25 kilometers, staked out a road leading to the front from the town of Alakurti, and captured a wagon with seven soldiers. Tied them up with the same rope: hands behind their backs and through the legs to the next one, and one end was held by our large soldier, who jerked it in case of trouble and they all fell flat. In this way they successfully reached their 152nd Rifle Division.
When searching a group of prisoners, a huge mistake is made by those who take all their documents and put them into a common pile, then you can't figure out what belongs to whom, but it's very important: photos, letter recipients - everything, the intelligence knows nothing unimportant, every small thing counts, you can't miss anything. So, an intelligence officer is good when he doesn't miss this. These prisoners were brought to our army HQ with just such pile. They told me: "Danil, sort out the papers." I was perusing these papers, looking at the photographs, and suddenly I see a small unassuming photo, 3 by 4 cm, with this caption on the reverse side: "To my orderly from von Ditmar." My God! I shouted to our interpreter and department chief: "Senia! Senia! Look!" He: "But it's General von Ditmar! Dan'ka, where did you get it?!" I said: "In that pile." He said: "My God, whom does it belong to?!" I said: "Now it's our task to figure out who this photo belongs to, because now he'll never admit it." We conducted a meeting, after which we brought in the prisoners and said: "No one will shoot you, because Soviet troops do not shoot prisoners - that is your Goebbels's propaganda that we shoot prisoners. You'll be going to the rear, into a POW camp." (We really didn't shoot them. I don't remember a single case where a German prisoner was shot in our army. We held them for a day, then sent them on to the front. The front held them for two days, and sent them to POW camps. We didn't mutilate, didn't kill, didn't torture, didn't stick any needles. Everything was simple - we gave them herring (awfully salted Kandalaksha herring, without soaking it) and didn't give them any water. The next day, a prisoner would tell anything for a sip of water. He would have foam on his lips, and we would bring him in, pour a tin cup of water, and he would shake and scream: "Water, water!" And we said: "Yeah, right! Talk!", and fed him herring again. After all, he did need to eat. Willy-nilly he ate that herring.) They cheered up. I said: "Here, everything on this table is yours, everyone grab what you own." We left, and when we came back, not only photographs, there wasn't a single scrap of paper on the table. Therefore, the owner of von Ditmar's photograph took it. We separated them again and started searching everyone. We found it on the youngest one, an 18 year old soldier. He was stuttering, his tears ran down his face. He admitted that he had been von Ditmar's orderly, who took him on at the request of his father, a gardener at his estate. He provided us with a complete profile of this general: personality, family status, etc. For this operation I was decorated with the "For Fighting Merits" medal. This was our first experience, you might say baptism of fire, in intelligence.
And then there was this case. We captured a pilot. His name was Kurt Ekkert, senior lieutenant, born in Riga, Doctor of Philosophy, distinguished himself during the capture of Crete and Narvik, had a Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves. He was an ace! During the interrogation he kept saying: "I am not a Nazi. I am not a member of Hitler's party. I am a regular German, but I swore an oath to Germany and cannot sell it out." For two days we were concealing from the front that we had caught a pilot, and for two days he wasn't telling us anything. It all ended when the prisoner was brought for interrogation to the army commander Kozlov. I came to the commander with a map case of aerial reconnaissance which I was ordered to bring. The interrogation was in progress. It was conducted in Russian, with an interpreter. The German wasn't saying anything. I left and sat down in the waiting room, suddenly the door opened and I heard a conversation: "Let's stage him a fake execution." Fake execution is a very agonizing experience. The condemned person is brought in tied up, placed in front of a tree, they read him his death sentence, everything gets interpreted, a squad of soldiers waits. He is asked: "Are you going to talk?" Usually the answer is: "Nein!" Second time: "Are you going to talk?" "Nein!" Third: "Are you going to talk?" He is hysterical and screams: "Nein!" Then the order is given: "Squad! Fire!" After the volley the condemned falls from shock and horror. And then another order: "What?! You missed! Do it a second time, at once!" But the soldiers don't know that their cartridges were all blanks, and think: "How could it happen that we missed?!" Usually people couldn't take it and started talking. This is called psychological pressure. It's ruthless, of course, you could maim a human being, break his psyche. And so the commander said: "Do whatever you want, but the information is to be on my desk in 4 hours." A colonel came out and yelled: "Executioner! To me!" Since there was no one around, I took it as an address to me. I entered, saluted, said: "The executioner's here!" "Have him shot!" I said: "Yessir!" I took out my sidearm, approached this Kurt Ekkert, took him by the arm, but he pushed me away and I fell. He ran to the general and in pure Russian said: "Comrade general, stop this circus." What happened next!!! Impossible to imagine! The commander yelled: "Everyone out!" We led the prisoner away. Kozlov yelled at the colonel: "If I don't have his information in one hour, colonel, it's penal battalion for you!" And so this German was once again taken to us, and we collectively made him this offer: we tell him what we know about them, show him the maps, if he doesn't talk after that, Afanasiy (Afanasiy Pil'kin, a Siberian, colonel's orderly) would take him out, put a bullet in the back of his head and yell: "He ran, he ran! He wanted to run away!" Then he would shoot twice in the air. And we would be finished with this business. We showed him the maps, and told him everything we knew... Neither before nor after have I seen a man to behave in such manner: breaking his teeth, he gnawed on the end of his stool. A doctor hurried in and gave him some injection. Having caught his breath, he said that had he known that we possessed such complete information, he would've told us everything, since his additions wouldn't have been treason. We fed him, gave him water, and sent him on to the front HQ.
It so happened that I fairly often showed my superiority over the colonel, the chief of the intelligence department. He harbored ill will toward me and one time called me to him and said: "Lieutenant, you have to go on a special mission behind enemy lines to meet our agent. The batteries of his radio are dead and he lost contact with us. Only you can find him." I said: "Comrade colonel, I know the cipher of the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff. I gave an oath not to approach the frontline closer than 30 km. If I do that, I can be shot by a troika without a trial." He said: "Well, will you crack that easily?! I order you! Repeat the order!" I repeated the order. Then I went to Lt. Colonel Yakunin, his second: "Listen, here's what happened." Yakunin was furious: "He's an idiot! He's sending you to your death! You did something to him. He doesn't need anything, and our agent doesn't interest him - he's out to get you. I can only advise this to you - leave all army things here. Find yourself some legend (in Russian intelligence jargon, a cover story for a secret agent - trans.)." I was too embarrassed to ask, to show my ignorance, but I didn't even know such word, "legend"! I wasn't a military person! I wasn't an intelligence officer! I was a construction engineer, a civilian person. What legend?! But the mission had to be carried out.
So at night, several men from the Saami tribe brought me over the front line in two sleds. They did it perfectly - only they could've done it. There was a ski track between German strong points, which were 20-30 km from each other. In case a patrol noticed an intersection of the track from our side, they immediately sent detachments after intruders. And so we twice returned to the spot from which we started, intersected that track, looped, moreover, they would stop driving, pickep the sleds and move them about 50 meters, than camouflage these tracks with their hands. This way they brought me almost to the meeting point. The last 3 kilometers I was supposed to walk by myself, since they didn't have the right to escort me. I said: "Wait for me here, I'll come back over my own track." I had 4 BAS-80 batteries with me, which weighed 12, if not 15, kilograms each. I constructed something like a sled, got on my skis, loaded these 4 batteries, harnessed myself and started pulling. When I came to the designated area, I was so exhausted that, having broken some branches from dwarf trees, I lied down and then fell asleep. I woke up because someone was knocking on my legs. I opened my eyes and saw some Finn standing there, aiming a gun at me. All of this in silence. I sat up, and we looked at each other. I asked: "Finn?" He remained silent. I asked: "Deutch? Sprechen Sie Deutch?" He was silent. And suddenly an idea struck me, what if he was my man? I said the password, he gave the reply and said: "What moron sent you? What right did you have to sleep?! You are in the enemy rear! Anyone can ride or walk here! Look how many tracks are around! How could you!?" I said: "First, I'm tired, second - I'm hungry." He took out 2 chocolate bars, a flask with alcohol, we drank, found a common language, he gave me the data on the Varde and Trondheim airbases, about the strength, arrivals and departures of German forces. He made me repeat everything maybe 15 times and send me back.
I came back to our HQ - the colonel's jaw fell when he saw me alive: "How did it go?" I said: "I returned alive, in spite of you sending me to die." He: "Who told you I sent you to die?!" I said: "I understood everything, comrade colonel." That was the end of the story. It was repeated later, when my dear, and now late, friend, Colonel Nikolay Dmitrievich Antonov, arrived as a chief of intelligence and replaced this idiot. He also called me to him and said: "Dania, you have to repeat what you did, but I want to create a real legend for you beforehand." I already knew what a legend was. I was sent to Belomorsk supposedly for cipher training. They dressed me as a convict in one house near Belomorsk: gave me wooden boots, some rags, "ushanka" fur hat without one flap. I was handed a copy of the sentence from the Frunze District Court of the city of Moscow, in which it said that Zlatkin, Daniil Fedorovich, was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment without the right to communication with relatives, for anti-Soviet activities, retelling of anti-Soviet jokes, anti-war propaganda, and so on. They told me: "You're going to Solovki (islands in the White Sea, site of a well known prison camp - trans.).
Everything is prepared there for you. You'll spend 10 days there, after which you'll have to know not only the inmates and what they're in for, but also the name of the cook's dog. Understood?" I said: "Understood." When I arrived, the camp's directory pulled me aside and said: "I know everything. I'll call you when it's time." And I was thrown into a barrack with bandits, thieves, and swindlers - everyone was there except for political prisoners, those were in a separate barrack. I told them a couple of jokes, said I was a sailor from Odessa, sailed in the merchant marine - I had acquaintances there, Val'ka the Cross-Eyed. "What, you know Val'ka the Cross-Eyed? Guys! Which ship did you sail on? What, don't you know the "Chervona Ukraina"? Wait, there was another Chervona Ukraina... Oh yes, there was one." Basically, I became one of the guys. Worked with them in the quarry - it was hellish labor to crush the rocks with a hammer, a chisel, or a hack. We found explosives somewhere, and since I had been a sapper, I was entrusted with demolition. There was no bore shaft - we simply laid the explosive under the rocks. Our task was to get gravel for the roads, and gravel could be unearthed in the open way, then the rocks which would be easier to crush were collected. This lightened our labor, and the prisoners apparently started to respect me even more. On the 9th day the camp director called me and said: "Danil, everything's ready, let's go." I went to the shore with him. He showed me the place and said: "There, below, is a row boat, there's a keg of fresh water and a sack of rusks in it. Did you arrange a partner?" I had an order to find someone and recruit him for the escape. Why did I do all that, why am I telling about all of that? I had to have a legend, in case I was captured by the Germans, and so if I said I was such and such, their resident in the Solovki would confirm that I had been there. Without returning to my unit, in the horrible rags, even worse than the first time, but with my sentence in a secret pocket, I crossed the front line and met that man I already knew (His name was Boris Borisovich. I've never heard about him again.). I came back, and so my operation ended. I wasn't sent anywhere anymore.
There was another interesting episode. In the middle of '44 we were sitting working in our dug-out. Suddenly, at 4 PM, there was a huge exposition on the territory of the army's HQ. The second explosion followed in exactly 2 minutes. The officer on duty said: "It's probably combat engineers doing something." The third deafening explosion hit in exactly 2 minutes somewhere near our half dug-out and knocked out our windows. Crushed stone started falling from the ceiling. Then there was a yell: "Everyone take cover! The Germans are firing at the army HQ!" That day the Germans fired 40 shell, which fell exactly on the territory of the army HQ. One shell even went through the window of a dug-out of the armored forces command. There were a seventeen year old typist and a major, a man of 45 years, in the dug-out. He grabbed his head (later we saw that the hair under his fingers became gray), having understood that death would occur instantly, but the shell didn't explode, and both of them ran outside. It turned out that Germans had received three 155mm long range guns, they were also called quartermaster guns because they were used to fire at HQs. Our aviation immediately tried to suppress the battery, but unfortunately it didn't work. On the second day the Germans again fired 40 shells at the army HQ with the same precision - a shot every 2 minutes, but the shells fell a kilometer beyond the HQ. What happened?! We deceived the Germans! We camouflaged all damage and craters in the HQ and blew up 40 TNT charges one kilometer closer to the front line, to create an illusion of craters. A "frame" (nickname of a reconnaissance aircraft commonly used by Germans - trans.) flew over in the morning and took pictures of the results of the raid, but since they were all faked by us, the correction the German made to their aim caused the shells to overfly us. At that time our artillery and aviation damaged 2 of their guns. They didn't bother us again. This is, basically, the story of my service in the intelligence department of the 19th Army.
|Recorded by:||Elena Siniavskaia|
|Edited by:||Artem Drabkin|
|Translated by:||Oleg Sheremet|
|Photo from the archive of D.F. Zlatkin|