Push and hold

“Mariner” from Mykolaiv Underground

In a park of Mykolaiv there is a memorial with the inscription: “In this place 10 March 1942 the KGB intelligence officer Oleksandr Sydorchuk conducted one of the most important subversive actions against the German occupiers”.

For the scale of losses caused to  the enemy in one time,  this operation and its main executor entered the history of the Second World War.

Then in a series of explosions and fires was destroyed a German airfield. All in all, the Germans lost 27 planes, as many spare aircraft engines,

petrol storage  with fuel, two warehouses with equipment and spare parts, aviation works. It was the most successful, but not the only successful operation, carried out in the occupied territory by O. Sydorchuk – a member of the special reconnaissance and sabotage group that operated during the war in Mykolaiv  under the command  of an officer  of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service  Viktor Lyagin, who  in 1944 was awarded posthumously the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

Olexandr Sydorchuk had not even dreamed of the work for  the Intelligence Service. He was born in 1913 in the village of Radoshyn  of the current Kovel district, Volyn region. His father was a railway man and moved with his family to Kyiv before the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He had the right once a year to travel for free to every corner of the country. Thanks to this, Sasha and his  father during summer holidays had visited many places of  the Soviet Union. Most of all the boy was impressed by the sea, and when the  time came to serve his country, he asked for the Navy. He served at the Pacific Fleet, and after demobilization for some time he was a sailor on fishing vessels at the Black Sea.

Shortly before the Second World War he was sent to study in a special school of NKVD in Leningrad. In the absence of documentary materials we can only guess that he was noticed  by  state security employees as a capable, active and purposeful young man who was positively characterized. During his studies he gained operational, intelligence, language training and other special knowledge and skills. Who knows what his fate would have been in   units of Soviet intelligence or counterintelligence, had it not been for the war.

In the summer of 1941 Olexandr Sydorchuk,  taking into consideration  the fact that he had served in the Navy, became part of  the reconnaissance and sabotage group “Marshrutnyky” which had to act in Mykolayiv after its occupation by the Nazis. He chose the operational  pseudonym  “Mariner”. The group’s leader was  Viktor Lyagin (code name “Kornev”). Unlike other members of the group,  the commander by  that time had sufficient experience in intelligence. V. Lyagin for some time had worked in the Central Office of the Foreign Intelligence Service, then was sent to the USA as an  intelligence resident’s  assistant in San Francisco. In this position he had been collecting intelligence about the plans to modernize the US Navy. In particular,  he received information about the creation of the unit that protected  ships from magnetic mines. Then he worked in intelligence residency in New York under the guise of an engineer of Amtorg.  When the war began, he  applied to the NKVD leadership with the request to send him to the front. He was invited to the Center and after a while sent to Mykolaiv as the leader of a clandestine reconnaissance and sabotage group.

Two weeks earlier,  a group of young KGB intelligence officers arrived in the city who presented themselves as students of the Leningrad Institute to work at Mykolsiv shipyards. One of them was  Oleksandr  Sydorchuk.  V. Lyagin met  with each “student” and only then finally formed the group,  gathered them all at the safe house, set a task  for the nearest future, determined the directions of their  activities, discussed the main  and alternate methods of communication.

In the first days in Mykolaiv, O. Sydorchuk met a girl, her name was Adele Trowel, a German by birth. Friendly relations soon  turned into true feelings, and after a while they got married. Later she became a reliable assistant in underground work, and Germanic roots in her pedigree only contributed to the successful fulfillment  of tasks.

In mid-November 1941,  Mykolaiv  group stroke  the enemy for the first time. The object was the  military warehouse and automobile depot in Petrovskyi Park, renamed into Mondpark. The explosives were  planted by O. Sydorchuk himself. The Germans lost 15 vehicles, 20 tons of fuel and about a dozen of soldiers.

Sydorchuk, like other members of the underground, took part in collecting information on dislocation of Nazi military units in Mykolaiv, intelligence and counter-intelligence bodies,  plans of the occupation authorities,  repairing of  ships at shipyards. The collected data were transmitted by radio into the Center until the batteries died.  Then they sent  a courier behind  the front line, but he was arrested, got into a concentration camp, from where barely escaped and returned to Mykolayiv bare handed. After that, the underground  decided to concentrate on subversive activity.

Another object was the airfield where in the hangars and in outdoor areas were based many German planes,  and were  stationed repair shops, warehouses with various equipment and fuel. It was kind of a strong aviation base, where  old and new planes were repaired. First Adele  got a job at the airfield’s dining room. Shortly after that,  not without her help, Oleksandr Sydorchuk  began working at the airfield as a fireman. He quickly found a common language with the German engineer Moll, who often visited the boiler room. During the First World War  Moll was captured by Russians, so he did have  something to remember. Adele regularly brought to the boiler room food and alcohol. Gradually there began to assemble almost all the  airfield attendants who considered talkative and friendly Alex (as the Germans addressed  Sydorchuk) a friend. Some of them would be invited by Sydorchuk to his home, where in the  company of Adele and her husband, they felt relaxed.

The most difficult part in the implementation of the planned operation was to transport the explosives across the River Ingulets,  because the bridge was carefully guarded. The way out was found by the member of the reconnaissance and sabotage group Petro Lutsenko. At his suggestion, mines, sewed up into dark cloth, were surrounded with firewood and they looked like bundles of firewood. People with such a burden on their shoulders, did not provoke suspicion. All in all they  transported  over two hundred kilograms of explosives and hid them in  a ditch near the airport. This took several days. Then for two weeks Sydorchuk every night was  personally laying  explosives at the most vulnerable to undermining  places.

March 7, 1942 the preparations for conducting  this complicated operation were  completed.  Sydorchuk needed an alibi in case of further investigation. He  pretended he was  ill,  visited the doctor and got the necessary certificate. Besides, he informed the airfield’s  commandant that due to his  illness he  could not work. The commandant  allowed him to stay home.

At noon on March 10, Sunday,  the city was shaken by  a dozen  of explosions. The fire began immediately.  It was burning all day through. Explosions and fire destroyed the air base completely —  aircrafts,  components,  equipment and all. Then the Nazi punitive authorities made some arrests. Among others , Sydorchuk was arrested, although he had an alibi. But the Nazi could not find any evidence linking him to the sabotage at the airfield, so  soon he was released.

Later, Oleksandr Sydorchuk worked as a guard in Mykolaiv port. On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the October Revolution, the underground group decided to destroy the port’s storage of fuel. At night  to November  5,  Sydorchuk  sneaked into the fuel tanks, under which explosives had been laid beforehand. He set fire to  the Bickford cord and was about to go to his left for a minute post,  as suddenly he saw German soldiers who were nearby. In the darkness they could see the light. He  turned and began to cover the burning cord with the flap of his raincoat. He did not manage to escape to a safe distance. The explosion  pushed him away  by tens of meters.

The fire was so great  that it took two days to be extinguished. It destroyed all the tanks with oil and oil products. Oleksandr got  a severe blast injury  and  burns  of the whole body of the first and second stages. He was taken to hospital where he later without regaining consciousness, died. But the investigation team again could not find the involved in the explosion. Sydorchuk also remained  above suspicion.

After this  Viktor Lyagin’s  reconnaissance-subversive group for  some time continued its activities.

The Gestapo did their best to disclose the underground. During one of the raids, they managed to grab Hryhoriy Havrylenko – Lyagin’s communication agent. He could be sent to forced labor to Germany, so Lyagin decided to use  the help  of  Maria  Lyubchenko, who worked at the city hospital. She  had been  left in the occupied Mykolaiv  for underground work. Lyagin hoped that she would  be able to give  Havrylenko a  certificate of his disease  that would save him from deportation.

But Lyagin did  not know that in  summer of 1942 the Gestapo arrested her and she agreed to cooperate with them. So the Nazis traced the  underground. In early February 1943, when Havrylenko  came to the hospital for the certificate, he was arrested. And then they captured Lyagin. The intelligence officer was  held in Gestapo’s prison and tortured for more than five months, but did not give in. July 17, 1943 he was announced  the death penalty and shot along with other members of the underground.

For the exemplary performance of special missions behind enemy lines and his  courage and heroism,  on  November 5, 1944,  Viktor Oleksandrovych  Lyagin was posthumously awarded the Golden Star of Hero of the Soviet Union. His name was given to a ship and a street  in  Mykolaiv. The memory of  Oleksandr   Petrovych Sydorchuk, who  is buried in the city cemetery, is also perpetuated in stone and bronze.


Oleksandr Skrypnyk

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