Daniil Zlatkin

In the beginning of 1943 I became a secret service officer in the intelligence department of the 19th Army HQ on the Karelian Front. Our main task was the formation of reconnaissance groups of 10-20 men, which we sent every 3-4 days into night raids behind enemy lines to capture a "tongue" (In Russian intelligence jargon, an enemy soldier captured for interrogation - trans.). We had to know everything, the entire situation at the front. Otherwise, if the intelligence department doesn't have any data, and doesn't report to the commander, then such commander and such intelligence are worthless. We knew everything about the enemy! And, as we supposed, the enemy knew about us. But we knew more! Why? I'll explain. The thing is that our Russian soldier knew the name of the company commander well, maybe the battalion commander, but his regiment commander, or the division commander - not on his life. The Germans knew the names of platoon commanders of the neighboring divisions. And as for their commanders, they not only knew their names, but where each one lived, what family he had, if he was a good or a bad person. After all, a commander's profile is an important matter for troops which are planning an offensive.

In one sector of the front there were 2 divisions opposite us, one of them was commanded by General von Ditmar, about whom I'll tell later, and the other by General Rubel. Von Ditmar was called away, he later married Magda Goebbels's sister, and General Ratschi was sent to replace him. In short, General Rubel was a self-important general who only acknowledged officers, didn't think of soldiers as human beings and treated them scornfully. As to General Ratschi, his nickname was Ratschi-bum - ball lightning. He unexpectedly showed up to inspect his units and first of all visited the latrine, then the mess hall, and yelled at everyone if he found deficiencies. His soldiers thought the world of him, and the officers hated him. So, which sector should we have chosen for an offensive? Of course, the sector where the soldiers didn't like their commander, and wouldn't have wanted to sacrifice their lives for him - that's why we intelligence officers needed the profile. We had a complete profile for every commander, down to platoon level.

And with General von Ditmar we had a most interesting encounter! The General Staff requested us for his profile, especially to find his photo. All our searches did not produce any result. The prisoners readily talked about him: "Yes, there was such a general. He is a large land holder." And absolutely nothing more. The reconnaissance platoon of one of the regiments of the 152nd Rifle Division was commanded by Lieutenant Ivan Lukich Kobets, now he's a colonel and my dear friend (the interview with Colonel I.L.Kobets will soon be published on this site - Artem Drabkin). He was given an assignment to capture a tongue. The scouts went deep into enemy rear, 20-25 kilometers, staked out a road leading to the front from the town of Alakurti, and captured a wagon with seven soldiers. Tied them up with the same rope: hands behind their backs and through the legs to the next one, and one end was held by our large soldier, who jerked it in case of trouble and they all fell flat. In this way they successfully reached their 152nd Rifle Division.

When searching a group of prisoners, a huge mistake is made by those who take all their documents and put them into a common pile, then you can't figure out what belongs to whom, but it's very important: photos, letter recipients - everything, the intelligence knows nothing unimportant, every small thing counts, you can't miss anything. So, an intelligence officer is good when he doesn't miss this. These prisoners were brought to our army HQ with just such pile. They told me: "Danil, sort out the papers." I was perusing these papers, looking at the photographs, and suddenly I see a small unassuming photo, 3 by 4 cm, with this caption on the reverse side: "To my orderly from von Ditmar." My God! I shouted to our interpreter and department chief: "Senia! Senia! Look!" He: "But it's General von Ditmar! Dan'ka, where did you get it?!" I said: "In that pile." He said: "My God, whom does it belong to?!" I said: "Now it's our task to figure out who this photo belongs to, because now he'll never admit it." We conducted a meeting, after which we brought in the prisoners and said: "No one will shoot you, because Soviet troops do not shoot prisoners - that is your Goebbels's propaganda that we shoot prisoners. You'll be going to the rear, into a POW camp." (We really didn't shoot them. I don't remember a single case where a German prisoner was shot in our army. We held them for a day, then sent them on to the front. The front held them for two days, and sent them to POW camps. We didn't mutilate, didn't kill, didn't torture, didn't stick any needles. Everything was simple - we gave them herring (awfully salted Kandalaksha herring, without soaking it) and didn't give them any water. The next day, a prisoner would tell anything for a sip of water. He would have foam on his lips, and we would bring him in, pour a tin cup of water, and he would shake and scream: "Water, water!" And we said: "Yeah, right! Talk!", and fed him herring again. After all, he did need to eat. Willy-nilly he ate that herring.) They cheered up. I said: "Here, everything on this table is yours, everyone grab what you own." We left, and when we came back, not only photographs, there wasn't a single scrap of paper on the table. Therefore, the owner of von Ditmar's photograph took it. We separated them again and started searching everyone. We found it on the youngest one, an 18 year old soldier. He was stuttering, his tears ran down his face. He admitted that he had been von Ditmar's orderly, who took him on at the request of his father, a gardener at his estate. He provided us with a complete profile of this general: personality, family status, etc. For this operation I was decorated with the "For Fighting Merits" medal. This was our first experience, you might say baptism of fire, in intelligence.

And then there was this case. We captured a pilot. His name was Kurt Ekkert, senior lieutenant, born in Riga, Doctor of Philosophy, distinguished himself during the capture of Crete and Narvik, had a Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves. He was an ace! During the interrogation he kept saying: "I am not a Nazi. I am not a member of Hitler's party. I am a regular German, but I swore an oath to Germany and cannot sell it out." For two days we were concealing from the front that we had caught a pilot, and for two days he wasn't telling us anything. It all ended when the prisoner was brought for interrogation to the army commander Kozlov. I came to the commander with a map case of aerial reconnaissance which I was ordered to bring. The interrogation was in progress. It was conducted in Russian, with an interpreter. The German wasn't saying anything. I left and sat down in the waiting room, suddenly the door opened and I heard a conversation: "Let's stage him a fake execution." Fake execution is a very agonizing experience. The condemned person is brought in tied up, placed in front of a tree, they read him his death sentence, everything gets interpreted, a squad of soldiers waits. He is asked: "Are you going to talk?" Usually the answer is: "Nein!" Second time: "Are you going to talk?" "Nein!" Third: "Are you going to talk?" He is hysterical and screams: "Nein!" Then the order is given: "Squad! Fire!" After the volley the condemned falls from shock and horror. And then another order: "What?! You missed! Do it a second time, at once!" But the soldiers don't know that their cartridges were all blanks, and think: "How could it happen that we missed?!" Usually people couldn't take it and started talking. This is called psychological pressure. It's ruthless, of course, you could maim a human being, break his psyche. And so the commander said: "Do whatever you want, but the information is to be on my desk in 4 hours." A colonel came out and yelled: "Executioner! To me!" Since there was no one around, I took it as an address to me. I entered, saluted, said: "The executioner's here!" "Have him shot!" I said: "Yessir!" I took out my sidearm, approached this Kurt Ekkert, took him by the arm, but he pushed me away and I fell. He ran to the general and in pure Russian said: "Comrade general, stop this circus." What happened next!!! Impossible to imagine! The commander yelled: "Everyone out!" We led the prisoner away. Kozlov yelled at the colonel: "If I don't have his information in one hour, colonel, it's penal battalion for you!" And so this German was once again taken to us, and we collectively made him this offer: we tell him what we know about them, show him the maps, if he doesn't talk after that, Afanasiy (Afanasiy Pil'kin, a Siberian, colonel's orderly) would take him out, put a bullet in the back of his head and yell: "He ran, he ran! He wanted to run away!" Then he would shoot twice in the air. And we would be finished with this business. We showed him the maps, and told him everything we knew... Neither before nor after have I seen a man to behave in such manner: breaking his teeth, he gnawed on the end of his stool. A doctor hurried in and gave him some injection. Having caught his breath, he said that had he known that we possessed such complete information, he would've told us everything, since his additions wouldn't have been treason. We fed him, gave him water, and sent him on to the front HQ.

It so happened that I fairly often showed my superiority over the colonel, the chief of the intelligence department. He harbored ill will toward me and one time called me to him and said: "Lieutenant, you have to go on a special mission behind enemy lines to meet our agent. The batteries of his radio are dead and he lost contact with us. Only you can find him." I said: "Comrade colonel, I know the cipher of the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff. I gave an oath not to approach the frontline closer than 30 km. If I do that, I can be shot by a troika without a trial." He said: "Well, will you crack that easily?! I order you! Repeat the order!" I repeated the order. Then I went to Lt. Colonel Yakunin, his second: "Listen, here's what happened." Yakunin was furious: "He's an idiot! He's sending you to your death! You did something to him. He doesn't need anything, and our agent doesn't interest him - he's out to get you. I can only advise this to you - leave all army things here. Find yourself some legend (in Russian intelligence jargon, a cover story for a secret agent - trans.)." I was too embarrassed to ask, to show my ignorance, but I didn't even know such word, "legend"! I wasn't a military person! I wasn't an intelligence officer! I was a construction engineer, a civilian person. What legend?! But the mission had to be carried out.

So at night, several men from the Saami tribe brought me over the front line in two sleds. They did it perfectly - only they could've done it. There was a ski track between German strong points, which were 20-30 km from each other. In case a patrol noticed an intersection of the track from our side, they immediately sent detachments after intruders. And so we twice returned to the spot from which we started, intersected that track, looped, moreover, they would stop driving, pickep the sleds and move them about 50 meters, than camouflage these tracks with their hands. This way they brought me almost to the meeting point. The last 3 kilometers I was supposed to walk by myself, since they didn't have the right to escort me. I said: "Wait for me here, I'll come back over my own track." I had 4 BAS-80 batteries with me, which weighed 12, if not 15, kilograms each. I constructed something like a sled, got on my skis, loaded these 4 batteries, harnessed myself and started pulling. When I came to the designated area, I was so exhausted that, having broken some branches from dwarf trees, I lied down and then fell asleep. I woke up because someone was knocking on my legs. I opened my eyes and saw some Finn standing there, aiming a gun at me. All of this in silence. I sat up, and we looked at each other. I asked: "Finn?" He remained silent. I asked: "Deutch? Sprechen Sie Deutch?" He was silent. And suddenly an idea struck me, what if he was my man? I said the password, he gave the reply and said: "What moron sent you? What right did you have to sleep?! You are in the enemy rear! Anyone can ride or walk here! Look how many tracks are around! How could you!?" I said: "First, I'm tired, second - I'm hungry." He took out 2 chocolate bars, a flask with alcohol, we drank, found a common language, he gave me the data on the Varde and Trondheim airbases, about the strength, arrivals and departures of German forces. He made me repeat everything maybe 15 times and send me back.

I came back to our HQ - the colonel's jaw fell when he saw me alive: "How did it go?" I said: "I returned alive, in spite of you sending me to die." He: "Who told you I sent you to die?!" I said: "I understood everything, comrade colonel." That was the end of the story. It was repeated later, when my dear, and now late, friend, Colonel Nikolay Dmitrievich Antonov, arrived as a chief of intelligence and replaced this idiot. He also called me to him and said: "Dania, you have to repeat what you did, but I want to create a real legend for you beforehand." I already knew what a legend was. I was sent to Belomorsk supposedly for cipher training. They dressed me as a convict in one house near Belomorsk: gave me wooden boots, some rags, "ushanka" fur hat without one flap. I was handed a copy of the sentence from the Frunze District Court of the city of Moscow, in which it said that Zlatkin, Daniil Fedorovich, was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment without the right to communication with relatives, for anti-Soviet activities, retelling of anti-Soviet jokes, anti-war propaganda, and so on. They told me: "You're going to Solovki (islands in the White Sea, site of a well known prison camp - trans.). Everything is prepared there for you. You'll spend 10 days there, after which you'll have to know not only the inmates and what they're in for, but also the name of the cook's dog. Understood?" I said: "Understood." When I arrived, the camp's directory pulled me aside and said: "I know everything. I'll call you when it's time." And I was thrown into a barrack with bandits, thieves, and swindlers - everyone was there except for political prisoners, those were in a separate barrack. I told them a couple of jokes, said I was a sailor from Odessa, sailed in the merchant marine - I had acquaintances there, Val'ka the Cross-Eyed. "What, you know Val'ka the Cross-Eyed? Guys! Which ship did you sail on? What, don't you know the "Chervona Ukraina"? Wait, there was another Chervona Ukraina... Oh yes, there was one." Basically, I became one of the guys. Worked with them in the quarry - it was hellish labor to crush the rocks with a hammer, a chisel, or a hack. We found explosives somewhere, and since I had been a sapper, I was entrusted with demolition. There was no bore shaft - we simply laid the explosive under the rocks. Our task was to get gravel for the roads, and gravel could be unearthed in the open way, then the rocks which would be easier to crush were collected. This lightened our labor, and the prisoners apparently started to respect me even more. On the 9th day the camp director called me and said: "Danil, everything's ready, let's go." I went to the shore with him. He showed me the place and said: "There, below, is a row boat, there's a keg of fresh water and a sack of rusks in it. Did you arrange a partner?" I had an order to find someone and recruit him for the escape. Why did I do all that, why am I telling about all of that? I had to have a legend, in case I was captured by the Germans, and so if I said I was such and such, their resident in the Solovki would confirm that I had been there. Without returning to my unit, in the horrible rags, even worse than the first time, but with my sentence in a secret pocket, I crossed the front line and met that man I already knew (His name was Boris Borisovich. I've never heard about him again.). I came back, and so my operation ended. I wasn't sent anywhere anymore.

There was another interesting episode. In the middle of '44 we were sitting working in our dug-out. Suddenly, at 4 PM, there was a huge exposition on the territory of the army's HQ. The second explosion followed in exactly 2 minutes. The officer on duty said: "It's probably combat engineers doing something." The third deafening explosion hit in exactly 2 minutes somewhere near our half dug-out and knocked out our windows. Crushed stone started falling from the ceiling. Then there was a yell: "Everyone take cover! The Germans are firing at the army HQ!" That day the Germans fired 40 shell, which fell exactly on the territory of the army HQ. One shell even went through the window of a dug-out of the armored forces command. There were a seventeen year old typist and a major, a man of 45 years, in the dug-out. He grabbed his head (later we saw that the hair under his fingers became gray), having understood that death would occur instantly, but the shell didn't explode, and both of them ran outside. It turned out that Germans had received three 155mm long range guns, they were also called quartermaster guns because they were used to fire at HQs. Our aviation immediately tried to suppress the battery, but unfortunately it didn't work. On the second day the Germans again fired 40 shells at the army HQ with the same precision - a shot every 2 minutes, but the shells fell a kilometer beyond the HQ. What happened?! We deceived the Germans! We camouflaged all damage and craters in the HQ and blew up 40 TNT charges one kilometer closer to the front line, to create an illusion of craters. A "frame" (nickname of a reconnaissance aircraft commonly used by Germans - trans.) flew over in the morning and took pictures of the results of the raid, but since they were all faked by us, the correction the German made to their aim caused the shells to overfly us. At that time our artillery and aviation damaged 2 of their guns. They didn't bother us again. This is, basically, the story of my service in the intelligence department of the 19th Army.

Recorded by
Elena Siniavskaia
Edited by
Artem Drabkin

Translated by:
Oleg Sheremet
Photo from the archive of D.F. Zlatkin

This page belongs to the Russian Battlefield