Alexey Botyan, aka Leo and Major Whirlwind

Alexey Botyan, aka Leo and Major Whirlwind


Day of Military Intelligence was once again celebrated on November 5 in Russia. This date was established by President Vladimir Putin’s decree issued on May 31, 2006.

It was on November 5, 1918, that a registration department was set up within the structure of the Soviet Repulbic’s Revolutionary Military Council to coordinate the activities of all the intelligence agencies of the Red Army. In 1953, after numerous instances of renaming, it was finally named the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the USSR Armed Forces.

The history of Soviet and Russian intelligence services of the second half of the XX century can be easily studied by the biography of Alexey Botyan, the Hero of Russia. I was lucky to know him personally and even take a hand in restoring justice for him. Botyan was recommended three times for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. However, for various reasons, the recommendations were not fulfilled. In 2007, I wrote an article about this for the Trud newspaper. It was published along with an open letter to Vladimir Putin on this subject. It was written by 400 veterans of war. The Russian President then recalled how he had retold the Major Whirlwind TV series at the ceremony where Botyan was decorated with the Star of Hero medal. He told Botyan the episode, in which a Soviet intelligence officer rescues the Polish city of Krakow from extermination by Nazi forces. Alexey Botyan became the prototype of the lead character of the series. Putin assessed the political expediency of the fact that this combat episode was mentioned in public. It meant a lot especially against the background of serious tensions in Russian-Polish relations that existed then. On May 9, 2007, Putin signed a decree awarding the distinguished title of Hero of the Russian Federation to Botyan.

“On the 10th of May, there was a call from the Presidential Executive Office,” Botyan told me. “So, I was informed about it. On May 22, Vladimir Putin gave me the Star of Hero in the Kremlin.”

...Alexey Botyan started fighting with Nazism in 1939 as an anti-aircraft gunner in the Polish army, as he lived then in the Belarusian village of Chertovichi in Vilna province that was under Polish jurisdiction then. When the eastern part of Poland was occupied by the Soviet troops, Botyan came back to his village and began to work as a teacher there. When the Second World War started, he was drafted into the Red Army and sent to study at a school for subversive reconnaissance fighters of the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD.) In November 1941, Botyan was sent to the front line as part of a special task force of the NKVD. It engaged in reconnaissance and sabotage activities in the enemy's rear together with guerilla units in Belarus and Ukraine.

When the theater of military operations moved to Eastern Europe, public security officials were tasked with organizing a guerilla movement in the rear of the Nazi troops. Botyan, the leader of a reconnaissance group, was transferred to the area of Krakow. During one of the operations, the intelligence officers found a large warehouse of explosives in the castle of Nowy Sącz in the Krakow voivodeship. The captured soldiers told that an operation was being prepared to blow up the major industrial and cultural facilities in Krakow. Botyan managed to plant Witold Mlynz, a Polish anti-fascist, as a worker in the castle. With his help, a bomb was placed in the warehouse. On January 18, 1945, at 5:20 a.m. there was an explosion at the castle. Both Krakow and Nowy Sącz were saved. In fact, the Major Whirlwind TV series is based on this story.

After the war, Alexey Botyan had to change his last name and life by NKVD order. As a Czech returnee he came back from Western Ukraine to the Sudetenland, an area of Czechoslovakia. He was tasked with settling down, getting education, and making a career there. In doing so, he could later infiltrate the Western secret services that showed great interest in the uranium ore deposits of Sudetenland.

Together with a large group of immigrants, under the name of Leo Dvořák, Botyan arrived in the industrial town of As. He enrolled for the Mining Technical School and then got a job as a geologist at the uranium deposit. There he made a career as a mining master, and then became an engineer of the site. Leo got acquainted with Gelena Winsel, one the most beautiful girls in As and also a worker at the uranium deposit. They fell in love with each other. Botyan asked NKVD for permission to marry her. Despite the fact that his first request was denied, Leo got it his own way. He was allowed to get married but under one strict condition. If there was a need to move to another country, he would have to leave his family.

After Stalin's death, almost all the management of the department that Botyan-Dvorjak was attached to, was arrested. The new bosses, when they found out that he had a foreign wife, urgently called him to Moscow. They fired him from the intelligence service for... moral decay. With the help of his friends among intelligence officers, Alexey Botyan illegally took or, to put it better, stole his wife and daughter who had been already born by that time out of Czechoslovakia. Only then Gelena found out who her husband was. According to the Soviet documents, she became Galina Botyan. A year and a half later, when the dust settled after Stalin's death, the management of the department realized whom they had almost lost, and returned Botyan to service. Galina Botyan also got specialized training. The operation continued. With the help of his contacts in the uranium industry in Czechoslovakia, Leo Dvořák infiltrated one of the Western secret services and began supplying valuable information. There were business trips to other countries. Until 1985, he had been working successfully. Botyan performed tasks in Europe and North America that have not been unclassified so far. After he settled in Moscow, he took part in the setting up of the emblematic Vympel special task force unit where he shared his combat experience with the fighters.

Colonel Alexey Botyan passed away on February 13, 2020 at the age of 103. Until last, he played volleyball, rode a bike and did not shy away from the traditional Russian 100 grams vodka on Defender of the Fatherland Day on February 23, on Victory Day May 9 and, of course, on November 5, his professional holiday.

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