Battle of Moscow
- The first—and most important—Soviet victory over the German military and intelligence services during World War II came in the Battle of Moscow in the late fall and early winter of 1941. By October 1941, German troops were approaching Moscow on two axes, and on 16 October most of the government ministries and foreign embassies were evacuated to Kuibyshev (Samara). This evacuation set off an orgy of looting that lasted for 48–72 hours. Had Joseph Stalin not been able to marshal the NKVD and Red Army resources, it is likely that Moscow would have fallen and the war would have had a different outcome.The NKVD’s first task was to make sure the evacuation went off as planned. Lenin’s corpse was removed by train to Tyumen in western Siberia, and the secret police began to mine the most important government buildings. A new NKVD special forces group was created called OMSBON (Otdelniy motorstrelkovoi brigadi osobovo naznacheniya, or the Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade for Special Operations) to supervise the defense of the capital and organize partisan detachments in the enemy’s rear. One of the battalion commanders of the brigade, Stanislav Vaupshasov, took his unit hundreds of miles into the enemy’s rear before returning to his base three months later. OMSBON mined more than 70 kilometers of highways and 19 bridges, and 12,000 antitank and 8,000 antipersonnel mines were planted in front of the attacking enemy. The NKVD also recruited assassins to kill German leaders, should the city fall and Adolf Hitler and his entourage visit Moscow. Among those recruited were leading artistic performers in Moscow and such émigrés as Olga Chekhova, a Russian movie actress living in Berlin who had access to Hitler.Soviet foreign intelligence also played a critical role in defeating the German army before Moscow. Information from Richard Sorge that the Japanese did not intend to enter the war convinced Stalin to shift elite formations from Siberia to take part in a massive counteroffensive. GRU and NKVD sources in Europe provided detailed information about German forces, as well as intelligence about German military planning.While German troops reached the outskirts of Moscow, Soviet resistance stiffened and stopped their advance by the end of November. The following month, a massive Red Army offensive drove the Wehrmacht back hundreds of kilometers and destroyed scores of elite units. Never again was Hitler able to command a nationwide offensive. The Battle of Moscow was the NKVD’s finest hour; in the wake of victory, 24 members of OMSBON were made Heroes of the Soviet Union. The unit continued its activities in the enemy’s rear throughout the war, infiltrating 212 guerrilla units and involving more than 7,000 of its own officers and personnel. It is credited with killing or capturing 137,000 German officers and soldiers, including 87 senior officers, in the course of the war.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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