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Germans Offer Munificent Reward: 30,000 Reichsmarks for Soviet Mining Engineer’s Head

Germany's most expensive Mercedes model cost about 20,000 reichsmarks (RM) in the 40s, whilst a brand-new Opel Kapitän was worth RM 4,000. A decent coat could be bought for RM 100, and a pair of boots would be sold for RM 15. In the US, following the end of the Great Depression, a typical middle-class house would go for approximately $ 15,000 (RM 37,500). A luxury car would cost five times less. So how come the Commander of the German 18th Army offered a RM 30,000 reward for the head of a mining engineer, making sure it was announced in a specially ordered leaflet?

The question was about Sergei Medvedev, a teacher at the Mining Institute (now St Petersburg Mining University), who commanded a partisan detachment formed mainly from university students. Primarily students from the explosives engineering department. Unlike the militiamen defending the city on the Neva with one rifle for three, the Leningrad saboteurs were heavily armed. The military department of the Sverdlovsk district committee (a district in the western part of Vasilyevsky Island, which existed until 1961) gave them Canadian sniper rifles, automatic weapons and even a light machine gun. And on September 13 1941, on the eve of crossing the front line near Gatchina, they had 300 kilograms of explosives.

The operation, after which the Germans finally understood how much damage the partisans inflicted on them, took place on October 19-20. Then the detachment blew up the train carrying soldiers and armoured vehicles on the Nizovskaya-Divenskaya railway. The partisans planted six land mines of 50 kilograms each under the railway bed to a depth of about one and a half meters.

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"The blades did not fit into the gravel of the body of railroad; we had to rake it with our hands. The guys were nervous, but the clay went deeper. Three pit holes were dug under the outside of the railway line. The other three were made at a considerable distance from the first on the inside of the railway line. They laid fuses, connected them with detonating cords and filled the pits. During this work, patrols with torches passed along the railway sleepers twice, but they did not notice anything," the saboteurs later recalled.

The 40-car train, which was their target, derailed after being demolished and then continued to explode - it was detonated ammunition, which, as it turned out, was also being carried on the train. As a result, at least 400 German soldiers and officers were killed, according to the Intelligence Department of the front headquarters. And it took the occupants six days to restore traffic on the mainline, working without interruption.

Before this episode, the guerrillas blew up several railroad and automobile bridges on the Kyiv and Luga highways, destroyed a German car repair shop, and found an airfield. Thanks to their report to the centre, it was then bombed by the air force of the Leningrad front. And a few weeks after their most extensive operation, breaking out of the encirclement, they shot up the car where secret documents from Wehrmacht headquarters were found next to the colonel's corpse.

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The papers were handed over to cadre front-line reconnaissance officers. The surviving members of the partisan detachment later found out that these documents were invaluable. They included maps showing the location of Hitler's troops, their numerical strength and armaments, charts of the "balance of forces and resources", operational reports and call signs for radio communications.

"The actions of the reconnaissances were highly commended by the Military Council of the Front. The fact that the composition and grouping of the enemy had been fully revealed was of great importance for the further planning and course of military operations". It is how the last (and in contrast to the previous ones - spontaneous) operation by students and teachers of the Mining Institute was commented on in the intelligence department of the front headquarters.

Initially, 35 people were enrolled in this partisan detachment. Eighteen of them did not return to Leningrad. Five of them were shot by Germans on October 21 when they were returning to the camp after undermining some wooden bridges on Luzhskoe road. The others were shot during further attempts to break out of the encirclement. Some of the detachment members were blown up on antipersonnel mines, some were shot by fascists following in the footsteps of saboteurs, and some died of starvation, as it was almost impossible to replenish food supplies. The group had to retreat, bypassing villages and bogs and feed on horses carrying explosives. The last one was eaten in November, and the raid behind the enemy lines ended only on December 10, when two planes landed on the ice of the Pendikovsky lake near Tosno for the bombers.

© Форпост Северо-Запад

After the operation, the squad leader Sergey Medvedev, the one who was awarded 30,000 reichsmarks for his head, and his chief of staff Alexander Medvedko were awarded the orders of the Red star. The radio operator Tarakanov and the bomber Kleverov were awarded the Red Star. Four more students of the Mining Institute were awarded other Orders of War.

In October 1944, the 18th Army of the Wehrmacht, against which partisans from the Leningrad Institute acted, was surrounded by advancing Red Army units and blockaded in western Latvia. For six months, up to the end of the Great Patriotic War, it maintained combat readiness. Together with the 16th Army, it repelled five serious attempts to eliminate the so-called Courland Pocket. On May 10, after the capitulation of Germany, the soldiers and officers of the once-powerful grouping, which numbered less than 230,000 men in the last phase of the battle, began to surrender.