Boris Shaposhnikov (1882-1945). Marshal of the Soviet Union. In1941 he was the Chief of the General Staff. Later he was the commandant of the Kliment Voroshilov Military Academy of the General Staff.



The bombing of Moscow grew in intensity. Alerts were sounded nearly every night. Sometimes bombs fell quite close to the General Staff. The shelter in the basement, though quite unsuitable, now had to be used for work as well. Soon the decision was taken that the General Staff should spend the night in Byelorusskaya Underground Station, where a command post and communications centre had been fitted out.

This meant that we had to pack our papers in our cases every evening and set out for Byelorusskaya Station. All night the central command post would be functioning on the half of the platform, while the other half, separated from us by only a plywood partition, would at dusk fill up with Muscovites, most of them women and children. Like ourselves, they took refuge there without waiting for an alert and made up their beds for the night. Such conditions were not, of course, very convenient for work, but the worst of it was that this daily coming and going wasted much precious time and upset our routine.

We soon abandoned this procedure and moved to a building in Kirov Street. Kirovskaya Underground Station was also placed entirely at our disposal. No trains stopped there. The platform we occupied was screened from the rails by high plywood walls. There was a Communications centre in one corner and an office for Stalin in another; the desks at which we worked were arranged in files down the middle. The Chief of the General Staff's desk was next to the Supreme Commander's office.

(...)

At the end of September a routine Party meeting was held in the Operations Department. In spite of the extreme pressure of work nearly everyone attended, including B. M. Shaposhnikov, Chief of the General Staff. Only one question was on the agenda - "The Current Situation and the Tasks of the Communists". The report was delivered by A. M. Vasilevsky.

Vasilevsky made no attempt to embellish the situation. He declared straight out that it was extremely grave, and that it demanded from all of us every ounce of strength and, perhaps, even our lives. There might be worse times to come. But there was no reason for despair. Leningrad was holding out staunchly; the enemy had failed to break through there. This permitted the assumption that no new fronts would come into being north of Moscow and our reserves, which we had been keeping for direst emergency, would remain intact.

Every word of the report was imbued with faith in our ultimate victory, in the wisdom of the Party and the Soviet Government, This meeting was one of the most vivid pages of my life. It gave me and those who were serving with me on the staff a fresh charge of optimism and courage.

On September 30, the enemy launched their general offensive against Moscow. A huge and bloody battle developed.

In order to ensure reliable troop control under any circumstances, the General Headquarters of the Supreme High Command decided to divide the General Staff into two echelons. The first, smaller echelon, under Vasilevsky, was kept in Moscow. The second, comprising the main body of the General Staff, was to leave the city. The move was made in two trains. F. I. Shevchenko was the commandant of the first train and I was in charge of the second.

On the morning of October 17 we started loading our safes. The train was due to leave at 19.00 hours. No one was allowed aboard without a pass. The platform, however, was crowded with civilians. One of them appealed to me for assistance, introducing himself unexpectedly as "the German anti-Nazi writer Willi Bredel".

I could not put him on the General Staff's train but helped him get on a hospital train that was leaving for the interior from the same station.

With Sharokhin's permission, in the train in which Shaposhnikov travelled, a compartment was given to the famous French writer Romain Rolland and his wife. On learning of their presence on the train, the Chief of the General Staff invited them to his carriage and had a long conversation with them. The Rollands got off the train at Gorky.

We arrived at our destination on October 18, and on the morning of the 19th I hurried back to serve with Vasilevsky's group in Moscow, as allocated.

I made the return journey by car. We approached Moscow at night, while an enemy air raid was in full swing. The city looked grim and majestic. Dozens of searchlights were slashing the darkness like blue daggers. Anti-aircraft shells burst with reddish flashes. The horizon quivered with purple spurts of flame from the gun emplacements.

(...)

Life in the operations group, as the first echelon of the General Staff was called, was exceptionally tense. Any distinction between night and day had disappeared. We had to stay on the job all round the clock. But since no man can live entirely without sleep, a train was run into our underground station as a dormitory. At first we slept sitting up because there was nowhere to lie down in the old type of carriages. Later we were supplied with first-class carriages, where we made ourselves properly comfortable.

Stalin came down to his underground office only during air alerts. The rest of the time he preferred to spend in the annex of the large building in Kirov Street that had been taken over by the General Staff. There he worked and listened to reports.

Meanwhile the bombing of Moscow was becoming ever more intense. Lone raiders broke through even in the day-time. On the night of October 28 a high-explosive bomb landed in the yard of our building. Several vehicles were destroyed; three drivers were killed and fifteen officers wounded, some of them seriously. Lieutenant-Colonel I. I. Ilchenko, who had been the duty officer in charge during the raid, was flung out of the building by blast and suffered a grave facial injury in falling. Most of the others were injured by glass splinters and flying window frames. Vasilevsky was among the wounded, but he went on working.

At the moment of the explosion I was walking along a corridor. When I realised what had happened, the danger was over. The building was shaken as if by an earthquake (I had experienced one in 1927, in the Crimea). There was a crash of breaking glass. Doors slammed behind and in front of me. Those that were locked were torn off their hinges. Then for a fraction of a second there seemed to be total silence until my ears recovered sufficiently to distinguish the banging of the AA guns and the crunch of broken glass as people staggered out of the room with blood streaming down their faces.

After this incident we took up our permanent quarters in the Underground. For five days we had no cooked food because our mess and kitchen had been severely damaged by the explosion. While these were being repaired, we had to make do with sandwiches.

This was how we lived and worked during what were probably the most critical days of the war, days of great disappointment and great hope. It was galling for us to think that the Nazi tanks and submachine-gunners had reached those favourite spots where Muscovites had used to take their Sunday outings before the war. But we were convinced this was a Pyrrhic victory. The enemy forces had exhausted themselves by their own advance. They were choking in their own blood, and we all hoped that this was where they would at last suffer defeat.

The situation was exceptionally complex and contradictory, but information about it was now much easier to collect. At least, in the main sector. Usually, several staff officers would get into cars early in the morning and drive out to Perkhushkovo, where the headquarters of the Western Front was stationed, then they would drive round the army HQs, which were now only twenty or thirty kilometres from Moscow. Everything on the working map of the chief of the Operations Department could now be checked in the minutest detail.