Push and hold

In the Catacombs

One of the brightest pages in the history of the Great Patriotic War was written by Odesa. The heroic defense of the city, which surprised the whole world, will remain in memory as an example of the Soviet people’s dedication, courage and resistance in the struggle for freedom and independence of their Motherland. The Battle of Odessa began in the most difficult period of war- at its beginning. Under the decision of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of August 19, 1941, Odessa Defensive District was created, headed by Rear Admiral H. V. Zhukov.

Soldiers and commanders of the Red Army had been selflessly defending every meter of their native land. The city was surrounded by a ring of barriers. One hundred thousand people took part in the construction of fortifications. More than 40,000 became militiamen. The enterprises had established production of weapons and ammunition.

Despite the fivefold superiority in manpower and military equipment, the 300,000 men enemy’s army for 73 days had been “running in place” at the walls of the city. Unheard courage  was demonstrated by the Marine Regiment led by a veteran of the Civil War Ya. Osipov, and by the Coastal Army Regiment, commanded by C. Serebrov. About 160 thousand invaders found their death in the fields near Odessa. Only after it was ordered, the Red Army left the city.

The evening of October 16, 1941 the first enemy’s units entered the regional center.

Odessa together with the territory from the Southern Bug to the Dniester was given by  Hitler to his Romanian allies. The invaders established governorship on these lands, which was named Transdnistriya. In the first days of occupation of Odessa, the Romanian secret police – Siguranca appeared in the city. Its agents were everywhere, watching people who sparked a suspicion. But  before the occupants turned up, with the  participation of state security agencies in the city had been organized patriotic underground, and had been formed reconnaissance detachments and sabotage groups.

Unlike the northern regions of the country, where the underground and partisans could hide in the forests,  Odessa was surrounded by bare steppe. However, there were a  lot of mines and stone quarries on the outskirts of the city where limestone was quarried for building purposes. The famous Odessa catacombs became the main base of Odessa underground.

Among them a special place was occupied by the group of Captain Volodymyr Molodtsov – officer of the Foreign Intelligence Service who was known in the underground as Pavlo Volodymyrovych Badayev.

Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Molodtsov was born June 5, 1911 in Sasovo, Ryazan region. In his youth he worked in Moscow in coal enterprises. He was a laborer, mechanic, getter. In the early 1930s he became a non-staff correspondent for the newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda”. After graduating in 1934 from Moscow Engineering-Economic Institute, he was recommended to serve in state security agencies. After training  in a special school, he worked in the NKVD for Moscow and Moscow region, and in March 1941 V. Molodtsov was transferred  to the Intelligence unit. At the beginning of the war, along with other experienced operations officers, he  became part of a Special Task Group under the People’s Commissar of State Security.

In July of the same year Molodtsov was sent to Odessa to organize a reconnaissance and sabotage unit.

Local Party and Soviet authorities gave at his disposal people familiar with the catacombs and surrounding villages. Badayev- Molodtsov’s unit originally consisted of 28 people, later it grew to 65. Badayev appointed the foreman of Nerubajskoe mines Ivan N. Klymenko the  Commandant of the underground garrison. He was a partisan in this area during the Civil War and foreign intervention. Klymenko also was the  main expert in mine -subversive matters.

The core of the unit was the staff of the local NKVD. They paid special attention to  organizing intelligence work in the city and maintaining communication  with the detachment. The City group was led  by Yakiv Hordiyenko. In the group of communication personnel under the Commander of the unit there was an intelligence officer  Tamara Mezhyhurska, who came to Odessa with Molodtsov.

The detachment was divided into underground and surface groups. Approximately two-thirds of men were in the catacombs, the rest operated in Odessa and suburbs. Preparing to work underground, Molodtsov also took care of the organization of intelligence on the coast: in Bolshoy Fontan  there operated a group consisting  of fishermen.

Since the beginning of the occupation of Odessa, Molodtsov-Badayev’s unit had been attacking enemy’s units. Near the village of Nerubayske,  the detachment  attacked a convoy of Romanian infantry. Several soldiers and one officer were killed in fighting. Molodtsov understood how important the success in the first battle was for raising the morale.  It was talked about again and again, remembering certain episodes. He also understood how important it was to act actively in very first combats. Constant offensive, attack, looking for the enemy’s  weaknesses and  attacks on them – this tactic was  adopted by Molodtsov and he  stuck to it in  combat operations.

Within three months of 1941, the unit carried out six combat operations. Pavlo Pustomelnyk, l, Ivan Ivanov, Kostyantyn Zelynskyi’s groups had derailed a train with manpower of the enemy.

In early November, the Chief of Odessa Police Ion Popov dissapeared.

In the middle of the month Molodtsov was informed about the arrival of the train, which had to deliver from Bucharest to Odessa a new administration. Near the station Zastava,  through which the train was heading, the underground fighters made an ambush. The train was blown up. 300 German and Romanian officials who had received appointments to posts in official institutions of the governorate Transnistria, died under the wreckage. The brass band that had to welcome guests at the station Odessa-Holovna, had never played a solemn march: the Commandant of the station received a report about the crash that occurred near Odessa.

On the railway stretch Odessa-Rozdilna, the undergrounders derailed four trains with troops and military equipment, killing 250 enemy soldiers and officers.

The intelligence officers of the surface group with the help of locals, were collecting  intelligence  about the location of military units, location of warehouses of weapons, ammunition and food, land and air defense of the city, troop movements, and about the city administration and enemy agents. This information was regularly communicated to the catacombs. There it was worked on and the most important intelligence was sent to the Center. It is clear that  communications were associated with great risk, because radio waves do not go underground, so  the antenna had to be taken out onto  the surface – where the steppe was constantly combed by gendarme patrols. Wireless operator Ivan Neizvyestnyi was strictly performing his duties, information always reached its destination in time.

In the Center, the intelligence collected by partisans  was decoded, analyzed, turned into  messages, reports, newsletters. They then were sent on – into the Intelligence Service, the General Staff. An example of practical use of the collected intelligence is the liquidation  of  a large base of fuel near Pervomaysk in Mykolaiv region. It was a very large base, which supplied fuel to a separate section of the front. It was well disguised, but its construction was not left unattended by the intelligence officers of Molodtsov-Badayev’s unit. Once the work at the facility had been completed, the Center received a message. Correspondent # 12′s  radiogram (under this number Molodtsov was listed in the Center) was forwarded  to the Staff  of Aviation   that made the bombing and the German base ceased to exist.

Interaction of aviators and undergrounders  was giving  significant effect. During one of the raids along the outskirts of the city,  Yakiv Hordiyenko  saw a revival in a military garrison in Peresyp. Observing this object, he noticed a convoy of trucks  with guns that went in the direction of Mykolaiv. Yakiv  immediately informed his Commander, who then sent the information to Moscow. Our bombers did not  miss the target: the column was destroyed.

Some of the information coming to  Molodtsov, was used there and then. Combat teams of the unit  destroyed gendarmerie posts, set fire to military facilities, warehouses, broke  the connection, destroyed motorways, caused damage to vehicles.

A notable act of revenge was the undermining of the Military Kommandatura during a meeting that was being held there. 140 officers died under the rubble of the house, including the Commandant of Hlohuyanu City, Prefect of Police General Davylu, and other military and police officials.

In late December 1941 the intelligence officers found out that a train with German soldiers, who had to be moved to Sevastopol, was expected to arrive in Odessa. On the railway stretch Dachna- Zastava  the train was blown  up.

Apart from combat actions, the undergrounders were spreading  anti-fascist leaflets and reports of the Sovinformburo.

Volodymyr Oleksandrovych  understood the importance of contacts with other resistance units operating in Odessa and on its outskirts. Moscow instructed Badayev to communicate with Ivan Kudrya’s  residency. For this purpose, it was planned to send to Kyiv two members of the unit under the pretext of finding raw materials for the brewery. But they were too late: Kudrya  had already been arrested by the Gestapo.

The activity of Molodtsov-Badayev’s  intelligence and sabotage detachment kept growing: from October 1941 to June 1942 Badayev’s unit and other groups had been diverting to themselves the attention of  16 thousand enemy soldiers (gendarmes and servicemen of the SS included). The invaders had been doing  their best to destroy the underground. Romanian engineers walled up all the exits from the catacombs, but the partisans  with the help of local people dismantled the rubble or found new outlets. The Nazis resorted to extreme measures: they pumped poisonous gas into catacombs. Everyone who was in there, was in mortal danger. But undergrounders moved  to secure mines and learned to divert gases into  empty tunnels.

Gestapo and Romanian Sigurantsa resorted to repressions: “Odessa newspaper” (the paper of the occupation administration), almost in each issue  reported about field courts and sentences to Soviet patriots. By February 1942 the Nazis had killed  about 100 thousand people in Odessa.

Punitive bodies, seeking undergrounders, used their  agents. They managed to come across people who had links with the underground. Failures began in Badayev’s unit too. One of traitors  gave the invaders the address of a safe house. February 9,  the Commander of the detachment and communicator Yasha Hordienko arrived there. The flat  had been  watched by the enemy’s counterintelligence service. Molodtsov-Badaev and Hordienko were arrested.

Concerned about the Commander’s absence, the Staff of the unit decided to send in search Badayev’s  communication agent – Tamara Shestakova. Not seeing a conditional signal in the window of the safe house, Tamara did not go in there, but the enemies who had been  waiting for “guests” in ambush, noticed her. The secret surveillance by counterintelligence let them find out addresses and arrest several other members of the group. In February – March 1942 many undergrounders from  Badayev’s group   were arrested.

The  most difficult and painful phase of struggle began for Volodymyr Oleksandrovych and his fellows in arms. Those arrested were subject to brutal torture, but undergrounders were  stubbornly silent. Badayev analyzed the circumstances of the failure and “figured out” the name of the person who betrayed them: it could only be Boyko. The Commander shared his conclusions with other arrested members of the group who managed  to pass this information to the freeside.  The name of the traitor became  known in the unit. When the Nazis were leaving  Odessa, Boyko-Fedorovych  tried to escape with the occupiers, but was detained and justly punished.

Among the documents, which Nazis did not have time to take out from Odessa, there was “The Case of  Badayev and His Organization”.  The materials show that the enemies did not know the real name of the patriot. Neither beatings nor tortures broke him.

May 29, 1942 the arrested undergrounders were announced the verdict. In particular, it stated:

”The Military Field Court,  having studied the case of the members of the group accused of conducting subversive terrorist activities, espionage and hiding weapons and ammunition, has decided to sentence:

Pavlo Volodymyrovych Badayev, Yakiv Hordiyanko,  Artur Hoffmann, Semen Volkov, Mykola  Muzychenko, Ivan Muzychenko,  Hryhoriy Senin, Petro Myldn, Pavlo Shevchenko, Tamara Mezhyhurska,  Tamara  Shestakova, Mykhaylo Svetlov, Mykhaylo  Bunyakova – to death, Oleksiy Khoroshenko – to eternal prison, Hryhoriy Kozyubenko – to 20 years of hard labor, Mykyta Yudin and Witold Hoffmann – to 10 years of hard labor “.

For the performing of a special mission behind the enemy lines, the courage and heroism Volodymyr  Molodtsov by the decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. The intelligence officers  from his unit  were awarded various military orders. Their names have been given to streets in Odessa and to ships. At the Tomb of the Unknown Sailor there are gravestones to V.O.Molodtsov and his messenger  Ya. Hordiyenko.


Oleksandr  Voloshyn, Oleksandr Bilohorov

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