Partisans. A strong partisan movement grew in the enemy rear during the Great Patriotic War of the USSR (1941-1945). Here a group of partisans from the Sergei Kirov detachment, which operated in Pinsk marshes under command of Vasiliy Korzh (General Komarov).



The Soviet partisan movement started almost on the first days of the war with Germany. In some regions anti-fascist underground organizations, and partisan groups and detachments were created yet before they were occupied by the German forces. They were either created by the local state and party authorities, or emerged spontaneously inspired by the social activists or Red Armists, who found themselves in the enemy rear or were sent there across the frontlines in order to organize underground and partisan movement.

Among the first organized units of the Soviet partisan movement was the group of several hundred men from Pinsk commanded by Vasiliy Korzh (General Komarov), an experienced partisan to take part in the civil wars in Russia and Spain. The group was formed a week before Pinsk was occupied by the German forces as a scout battalion to fight German saboteurs and spies. But two days later (on 28 June 1941) they fought a regular battle near village Galevo (nowadays a district within the city of Pinsk). They caught a Wehrmacht reconnaissance unit in an ambush, opened fire from machine guns and anti-tank rifles, as well as threw grenades at the approaching light tanks and motorcyclists. When the first tank went aflame, the Germans started pulling out in hurry. Several Germans were killed and two were taken prisoners. The Russians lost only one man, but it was a serious loss - killed was the commander's deputy Sergei Kornilov, an experienced partisan from the times of the Polish invasion in 1919-1920. This clash was probably the first partisan action in the East. On 4 July the group fought with cavalry units approaching the town, which was still fighting. The partisans shot at the invaders at blank point from rifles and machine guns. Many Germans fell, others assumed defence. After an hour-long fight the partisans had to abandon the town; in its southern part across the bridge on river Pina they passed to the vicinity of Stolin where they installed a base in the Zhitkovitskiy Forest. From there they conducted attacks against the enemy communications.

On 29 June 1941 the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR and the Central Committee of the Soviet party - the VKP(b) - issued to all the sections of the party, state administration, trade unions and the youth movement (Komsomol) a directive to

set up partisan cavalry and infantry detachments and sabotage groups in enemy occupied areas for the struggle against units of the enemy army, to inflame partisan warfare everywhere and at all times to blow up bridges and roads, to spoil telephone communications, to set fire to forests, warehouses and wagons, to create unbearable conditions in the occupied areas for the enemy and all who helped him, to pursue and destroy them at every step, to disrupt everything they do. [Ailsby Ch. (1998).]

This directive was formally elaborated in the special resolution of the CC of VKP(b) of 18 July 1941, which obliged the party and Komsomol sections to create underground groups among their most trustful members, personally known to the leaders and proven at work. Their activities were controlled by the respective party committees of the republics, whose territories were under the occupation.

As early as on 30 June 1941 the CC of CP(b) of Byelorussia issued the directive No.1 On passing of the party organizations in the areas temporarily occupied by the enemy to the underground activities. That directive obliged all the provincial, municipal and local party sections to create underground organizations yet before the arrival of the German troops. In van of those organizations stood "threes" composed of most trustful party members. Among the first underground organizations to undertake the partisan struggle with invaders was the Minsk District Committee of CP(b) of Byelorussia with its first secretary Vasiliy Kozlov in van. On the day the Soviet troops left Minsk (28 June) the committee moved to the Luban Forests, to the state farm Zhaly, located far from main communication routes. There on the island Zislav, on the river Oressa, was brought into being the centre (a "three") to coordinate the struggle with invaders. At the same time was also created the Pinsk district party "three" with the second secretary of the Pinsk District Committee, Peter Shapovalov in van. In August more "threes" started their activities in the provinces of Gomel, Polesye, Vitebsk and Mogilev. During a conference on Zislav they were united in the inter-district staff of the partisan movement, with Kozlov in van. The next stage became creation of local party "threes". In the summer 1941 there were almost 90 of them in Byelorussia.

The main task of the "threes" was mobilization of the people for further fights as to organization of underground anti-fascist groups and partisan detachments, as well as their communication and supplies of food, clothes, arms and ammunition. First partisan detachments were formed out of the scout battalions and units of the popular militia the military authorities hastily created on the first days of the invasion. More partisan detachments were formed of volunteers in factories and railway depots. For example the first partisan detachment in the province of Vitebsk was created in July of the workers and management of the Vorovskiy Cardboard Production Works near Surazh. This detachment quickly grew in numbers and became the 1st Byelorussian Partisan Brigade; its commander became the works' executive director Minai Shmyrev (Batka Minai) and the commissar - the secretary of the works' party section, Richard Shkredo.

In the end of September in the still free Vyazma evacuated railway workers from Orsha (Moscow Westbound Railway District) with their supervisor, engineer Konstantin Zaslonov, created a 40-men partisan detachment and returned across the frontlines to Orsha. In the vicinity of Orsha they created a forest base, from which they were raiding German garrisons, outposts and communications. Zaslonov with a group of the closest aides went to Orsha, where they reported to work at the local railway depot. There they unfolded sabotage and subversive activities. Within three months they damaged over 150 locomotives and caused more other damages. When the Germans were after them, they left for the forests, where they reunited with the detachment. As it grew in numbers it became known as the Uncle Kostya's Detachment (from Zaslonov's pseudonym), and later the 2nd Byelorussian Partisan Brigade. Zaslonov and his men soon became a Germans' nightmare. Particularly harassing were Uncle Kostya's persistent attacks on the strategic railway Minsk - Smolensk, as well as garrisons designated to guard it. The Germans organized several expeditions against the Orshan partisans. During one of them, in the fights near village Kupovat on 14 November 1942 the legendary Uncle Kostya Zaslonov got killed, but his brigade continued its struggle till the liberation of Byelorussia.

For the underground and partisan activities the CC of CP(b) of Byelorussia left in the occupied territories 1200 people - state officials, as well as the party and the Komsomol activists. Moreover between July and September 1941 across the frontlines to the occupied territories, more than 250 intelligence, reconnaissance, subversive and partisan groups were sent by land and air. Altogether they numbered over 2000 men and women. But the main role in the organization of the resistance in Byelorussia played local staff.

At the night from 16 to 17 September 1941 in the German rears in the vicinity of the lake Domzheritskoye (the basin of the river Berezina), some 18-20 kilometres from the town of Lepel (province of Vitebsk), landed a 55-men strong airborne special operations partisan detachment commanded by Col. Grigoriy Linkov (Batya). This detachment played a significant role in flaring up the partisan war in Byelorussia and in the north-west areas of the Ukraine. It was created in Moscow by the Chief Intelligence Executive (Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravleniye - GRU) of the General Staff of the Red Army. Its commander, Col. Linkov, was a professional militaryman of many years of service, engineer and scientist. He possessed a lot of knowledge and experience concerning explosives, as well as the forests - a passionate hunter he spent a lot of time in the Siberian taiga. He personally selected each man and woman of his detachment - all young and physically fit, and having demonstrated extraordinary courage and intelligence; some of them had already gone through the baptism of fire either on the front or in the enemy rear. They had to make the nuclei of further partisan groups and detachments for intelligence and subversive operations.

Linkov had laid his first base in a little village called Moskovskaya Gora, in inaccessible area, full of forests and marshes and easy to defend from enemy attacks. Within a month his detachment tripled in numbers. Although Linkov had an explicit order from Moscow to avoid recruitment of unknown persons - they were afraid that the detachment could be infiltrated by traitors and German agents - he undertook that risk with benefit for further operations. There were coming soldiers and officers of the Red Army, who in various circumstances found themselves in the enemy rears and there were local civilians coming, who wanted to fight the enemy with the arms in their hands. In the second half of October the detachment carried out its first combat operation - blowing up a bridge on river Essa on an important road Lepel - Borisov. The invaders reacted quickly; against Batya's detachment they sent a punitive expedition, which was repelled with casualties. Then the local branch of the Security Service (Sicherheitsdienst - SD) tried to destroy the partisans by sending to their camp an SS unit disguised in the Red Army's uniforms. Col. Linkov was alarmed in due time through his net of informants and the Germans were crushed in the vicinity of lake Palik. Yet the German authorities in Vitebsk did not give up. They mounted another punitive expedition, in which took part an infantry regiment, artillery and flame-throwers. Hitlerites tightened the circle around lake Palik. Partisans, pushed in the marshes, were breaking through the encirclement ring in small groups. Some groups were crushed, but the core of the partisan forces escaped from the deadly trap. The Germans organized more punitive expeditions; they wanted to destroy the partisan movement at any price. They engaged in fights two divisions of regular infantry deployed in the vicinity of Vitebsk, as well as tried subversive methods. They used to disguise traitors and collaborationists in the Red Army's uniforms, and after special training used to send them to the local villages under the guise of Soviet soldiers, who escaped captivity and were seeking partisan units. But Linkov deciphered this method too; denounced agents and provocateurs used to be shot on the spot. Casualties inflicted in fights were compensated by the constant influx of new volunteers.

In the winter 1941/1942 Batya used to create underground anti-fascist nets in towns, villages and railway nodes, as well as more partisan groups and detachments. For short he flared up a guerrilla war in a vast area. And then Col. Linkov received an order from Moscow to focus efforts on destruction of the German communications and above all on blowing up German transports with troops and equipment. This was the beginning of the "Battle for Railways".

In the spring 1942 partisans did not possess yet adequate equipment and materials for mine warfare. Particularly they lacked special mines and so they had to find a substitute solution, which Col. Linkov described after the war in his memoirs The War in the Enemy Rear:

It occurred to the partisans, that trotyl was the most powerful and irreplaceable explosive. Originally they put 3.2kg of trotyl in each railway mine, but in the autumn 1943, during massive diversions on the railways, we already had trotyl sticks and cubes weighing merely 75 grams each. Trotyl does not blow up of fire or impact from a bullet or fragment. An exploding 400-gram trotyl cube of a size of three matchboxes pierces any fuel cistern or another tank. Trotyl is also an excellent explosive to use on motorways and roads. (...)

Imagine an explosion of three kilograms of trotyl under a train travelling with the speed forty kilometres per hour. The explosion usually blows up a sector of the rail 60-80 centimetres long and leaves a crater about a metre deep in the embankment. The locomotive and several carriages usually derail during the explosion. A particular effect can be achieved through an explosion on a curve, high embankment, or in a deep ditch. The enemy suffers from serious losses in the railway equipment, combat equipment and manpower. The significance of those losses comes also from the fact, that the tanks, guns and men are lost before they can inflict these of those losses to us in the battlefields. They do not reach the battlefields at all, or they reach them often with such a delay, that they become redundant. The huge damages inflicted to the enemy on the front due to lack of timely reinforcements or supplies are beyond estimation. But no less important in such a catastrophe is the moral effect - the gloomy feeling that affects the enemy and the uncertainty he experiences from the thoughts that his own rears are not safe from the opponent's blows. [Линьков Г. М. (1951).]

In April 1942 Batya's detachment received from the "Big Land" the first contingent of specialists - the engineers specializing in explosives and wireless operators with radio equipment, explosives and means of water transportation. Also were brought letters, books and newspapers. The detachment expanded its activities to the northern areas of Byelorussia and north-western areas of the Russian Federation, into the rears of the Army Group North; so far it operated only in the rears of the Army Group Centre. In April Batya's mining groups blew up three army transports near the hamlet Krulevshchina. In the next months they blew up more transports on the railways Vilnius - Polotsk and Minsk - Borisov - Orsha.

The densest grid of railways was in the vicinity of Brest where the railways fanned from the west to the east: from Brest to Leningrad (Petersburg) via Polotsk, to Moscow via Minsk, to Kiev and Donbass via Gomel and Rovno. Looking at the map of the vast area of the Pripet marshes Linkov wrote that

one could get an impression that this uneven plain under one's feet literally caved in under the weight of the enemy trains running to the Eastern front. And farther to the west - the damned monster, fascist Germany. From there were coming huge black arteries, which aimed at my country. How much did we desire to possess so much power to blow up everything that flew in those arteries, to squeeze the fascist viper still pulsing with life and setting in motion hundreds of thousands of machines bringing death to innocent people. [Линьков Г. М. (1951).]

Having Moscow's consent Linkov with several hundred of people left on 12 May the area of Vitebsk and started an over 600km-long march to Polesye. Along the whole route of his he used to form partisan groups and detachments, which had to continue diversions on the railway communications. Among others he had parted with Zaslonov (Uncle Kostya), with whom he worked for several months. By night 22/23 June Batya's detachment severed the rails on the route Minsk - Baranovichi, and a week later arrived to the area of Zhitkovichi - a town and railway station on the railway Pinsk - Mikashevichi - Gomel.

For the base for his detachment's operations Batya choose the Bulevo Marshes, several kilometres north to Zhitkovichi, in inaccessible forests and remote hills, in the east adjacent to the big lake Krasnoye, in the south - to lake Beloye, and in the west and south-west - to the River Sluch. The choice of the place, where he operated for a year, owed much to his hunter's instinct. There he created the nucleus of the Central Intelligence Base, which reported to the Chief Intelligence Executive of the General Staff in Moscow.

As he installed his base in the Bulevo Marshes, Linkov sent his plenipotentiary envoys and combat groups to many places, to organize partisan movement wherever it was possible. His partisan, subversive and intelligence operations enveloped huge areas of Byelorussia, western Ukraine and western provinces of the Russian Federation from Polotsk in the north to Rovno in the south, and from Kalinovichi in the east to Brest in the west. He made contacts with other partisan groups, among others - Kozlov's and Korzh's. In the Bulevo Marshes he used to receive parachutists and supplies from the "Big Land". Before the spring of 1943, that is re-organization of the partisan movement in Byelorussia, the Lake Krasnoye Central Base, moved farther to the south-west to Pinsk, was the main centre of intelligence and diversion in that area.

On 15 November 1941 on the banks of the River Nerussa in the Bryansk Forest met several groups of Red Armists, who, defeated in the ill-fated battle of Kiev, were trying to get across the frontlines back to the fighting army. Those were groups led by the firefighter Alexander Saburov, party official Zakhar Bogatyr, and Lieutenant Ivan Fyodorov. They made the decision to remain in the enemy rears. In a nearby village they created a partisan detachment, and since the 24th anniversary of the Red Army was closing, they named their detachment after that anniversary. Saburov became the commander, and Bogatyr became his political commissar. The detachment quickly grew in numbers, and soon it was able to stage first successful combat actions. Partisans used to ambush enemy marching columns, harass garrisons, and conduct diversions on the railways linking Kiev with Moscow.

Also, Saburov made contacts with some other partisan groups operating in the Bryansk Forest, and at night from 1 to 2 February 1942 they together attacked the enemy garrison in Trubchevsk on the River Desna (province of Orel). There garrisoned 200 gendarmes and policemen, as well as an army commandant and an office of security service (SD). On the day before partisan scouts infiltrated the town and reconnoitred the location of the German outposts, their strengths, and other valuable information. The night of attack was dark and frosty. Partisans removed guards, infiltrated the town, and attacked all German outposts simultaneously. In fights, which lasted till 10 o'clock in the morning, they used mortars and grenades. The enemy lost 127 men killed; partisan losses amounted to 11 killed and 9 wounded. At 18:00 they left for the forests, taking with them 60 volunteers and wounded soldiers from the local hospital. On the way they blew up the bridge on the railway linking Bryansk with Pochep.

On 1 May 1942 the Central Committee of the VKP(b) made the decision to unite partisan forces in the Bryansk Forest under the command of Saburov. It was a grouping of 10 detachments numbering 1,720 partisans - the second biggest partisan grouping after Sidor Kovpak's. It played a major role in spreading the partisan warfare in the enemy rears, and creation new partisan detachments.

In Lithuania, state and party officials, left to organize resistance movement, were arrested before they were able to carry their duties. The Central Committee of the VKP(b) of Lithuania, installed in Moscow, sent to the occupied areas eight groups of parachutists, which became the nucleus of partisan detachments, and conducted intelligence and sabotage actions in the rears of the Army Group North. By the end of 1941 as many as 14 partisan detachments operated in Lithuania, waging heavy fights with punitive expeditions of the German invaders and local collaborationists. Few survived till the spring. Situation in Lettonia and Estonia was similar. Although the local resistance movement was reinforced by partisans and parachutists coming from the areas free of occupation, concentration of the German troops and activisation of local traitors made it impossible to expand partisan detachments. So, only few of them were formed till the mid-1942; resistance was stronger in urban underground.

In the provinces of Smolensk and Leningrad, Karelia, Moldavia, and Crimea underground resistance and partisan movement were prepared before those areas fell to the invaders. There party activists and professional militarymen organized clandestine storages of weapons, ammunition and supplies.

At the end of 1941 in the occupied territories of the USSR, in excess of 1.5 million square kilometres, operated nearly 2,000 partisan units, which rallied altogether more than 90 thousand people. Partisans used to attack communications, blow up railway transports, damage roads, bridges and railways, ambush troops, liquidate police and collaborationist outposts, collect intelligence data, set prisoners free, and defend civilians from the invaders' terror and plunder. They conducted propaganda and education, instilling population of the occupied territories with the will to resist the invaders.

Partisan movement in the rears of the East front worried very much both the field commanders and the supreme command of the German armed forces. On 16 September 1941 Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel among others stated in his orders: Since the campaign against Soviet Russia started there have been communist insurrections everywhere in the territories occupied by Germany. The actions range from propaganda and assaults against single members of the armed forces to open revolt and spreading guerrilla warfare. The Germans had to undertake serious measures to safeguard their communications. On 25 October 1941 the Supreme Command of the Army (OKH) issued an instruction reading that efficient defence of railways required a battalion of troops per each 100km. During the battle of Moscow, when each soldier was badly needed in the front, the German command had to detach nearly 300 thousand regular, auxiliary and police troops to defend railways and fight partisans. Nevertheless, situation on the communication routes was grave to the invaders.