Day Before war Starts

Day Before war Starts

Pr. Vladimir Zakharov is Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, the former deputy head of the USSR State Committee for Hydrometeorology, and an acclaimed scientist in the sector of development of nuclear engines for aircraft and laser impact on the atmosphere. He is the son of Matvey Zakharov, a celebrated marshal and twice Hero of the Soviet Union.

Zakharov doesn't like to talk about himself much. However, he is justly proud of his father. Military literature has a lot of examples testifying to the high professional skills of staff commanding displayed by the military commander Matvey Zakharov. He successfully designed more than 20 front-line offensive operations. The first hours of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, as the combat operations on the eastern front of World War II are known across the former Soviet Union, became special for his front-line biography, and Matvey Zakharov always willingly remembered those times. And it was understandable.

When attacking the USSR without a declaration of war, the Germans were surprised that the troops of the Odessa military district met them in a fearless and orderly manner. Thus, neither border guards, taking the blow of the German-Romanian units, nor the district's fighter pilots, who shot down several Nazi bomber aircraft in the first hours of the war, were caught unawares by the attack. More than that, on the fourth day of the war, the combined units of the 26th Chapayev division of border guards and navy men of the Danube naval flotilla landed on the right bank of the Danube and carried out several successful operations on enemy territory. Notably, this was the first landing of our troops during the Second World War.

“Mr. Zakharov, it is well-known that two days before the Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union it was your father who organized the staff of a field army out of a group of officers of the Odessa Military District. This step by Major General Zakharov made it possible to place the troops on high combat alert in advance. Thanks to his actions, in the first days of the war our army not only successfully repelled the Nazi attack, but also inflicted significant damage on the invaders. Did your father share the details of those days with you?”

“My father spoke about the war very rarely. In his book “The General Staff in the Prewar Years” that was published 18 years after his death, he described the details of the first 10 days of the war when he served as chief of staff of the Odessa Military District. He also mentioned in his book how he put the troops on alert and what instructions he gave on June 21. During these days, the district was supposed to conduct scheduled command-staff exercises. Proceeding from the available intelligence data, my father made a conclusion that the enemy invasion would be preceded by an attack on the airdromes. Therefore, he persuaded Yakov Cherevichenko, the commander of the Odessa military district, to cancel the exercise. At that moment, Cherevichenko was visiting one of the corps of the Odessa district in the Crimea. Georgy Zhukov, the Chief of the General Staff, was also informed about this. On June 20, my father went by train to Tiraspol, where a command post had been prepared already in advance. On arrival he decided to move all troops from the barracks to deploy them closer to the border and to disperse the aircraft to all the reserve airfields. However, Fyodor Michugin, the commander of the aviation of the district, voiced doubts over whether the entire aviation would be incapacitated. My father had to issue a written order for the urgent relocation of aircraft. For truth’s sake, it’s important to say an amended instruction was delivered from Moscow overnight to June 22, 1941. It demanded refraining from hasty steps, but my father did not cancel his order.

“Wasn’t it risky?”

“The memoirs of Air Force Marshal Ivan Pstygo say that my father certainly risked his neck. However, if he obeyed an order from Moscow, he would put the soldiers of his district under fire and the operation might have become mortal for them. So, in the morning of June 22, 1941 Nazi bombs fell on an empty place. Interestingly, Marshal Malinovsky, who then commanded the 48th rifle corps, told me about it. My father was on friendly terms with him to the last.

Malinovsky and Zakharov, 1944. Moldavia

“A rapid changeover from urban conditions to a field command post equipped with communication gear in advance is the criterion for assessing the readiness of the a staff for the start of a war. In this regard, the history of the Odessa Military District staff headquarters is only one of the examples. Already on the night of June 20, the command staff was at a field command post equipped with all communication means, which made it possible to put troops on high combat alert and successfully repel the attack of strong enemy forces in the first days of the war, causing significant damage to them.”

(From the memoirs of I. S. Konev)

“Did your father feel any pressure from Stalin?”

“He never told me about it.”

“Your father is a professional military officer. Like all military leaders of that time, he had to follow all of Stalin’s instructions, although as commonly known Stalin had no special military education. Did your father take them seriously?"

“He found them quite appropriate. To say more, he believed that Stalin had a gift of generalship. In his opinion, although Stalin did not have any military education, he was completely in control of the situation at the front. My father also respected the opinion of Zhukov as a true commander, but believed that he was still a very tough man.

“Your father is believed to be the only marshal who somehow did not get his awards of Hero of the Soviet Union during the war.”

“This is not true. He received his first Gold Star for the war with Japan in 1945, when all the commanders of the Second Ukrainian front were transferred there. The Red Star, his first combat order, was awarded to him for the Battles of Khalkhin Gol, the decisive engagements of the undeclared Soviet-Japanese border conflicts fought by the Soviet Union and Mongolia, on one side, and Japan and Manchukuo, on the other side, in 1939. During the war, he received two orders of Suvorov of the 1st class and the order of the Red Banner. In 1945, he was the only one who was awarded the rank of General of the Army. My mom, my brother and I were visiting him in Czechoslovakia, 20 km away from Bratislava, where the staff headquarters of the Second Ukrainian front was located. It is completely impossible to forget how we celebrated of the victory. We were still asleep when we were awakened by my father's loud cry “Hooray! We won!” We jumped out of our beds, frightened, then turned on the light, and saw him crying: “We won! We won!” He started throwing my brother and me up to the ceiling and hugging my mother. Then there was a banquet for the highest command where Malinovsky, the front commander, delivered a speech. Of course, we children were not invited there, but adults described what happened there in details. In general, my father took us to the front several times. For example, in June 1943, shortly before the beginning of the battle of Kursk, in order to visit him we left Kuibyshev (currently Samara), where we had been evacuated, for the headquarters of Steppe front. However, I remember that victorious May for as long as I live.

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