| 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
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
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
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
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
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.