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201

Monday, October 19th 2020, 10:34pm

Aha, I see "the Variag" has entered the equation. It's a good thing we don't have any Manchurian troops!

202

Tuesday, October 20th 2020, 4:18am

Aha, I see "the Variag" has entered the equation. It's a good thing we don't have any Manchurian troops!


Be thankful he only has a dozen Spetsnaz. Imagine the havoc if the entirety of the 35th Rifles was at his back...

203

Tuesday, October 20th 2020, 7:03pm

Operation Concert (6)

Advanced Base Ship Coronel, Gulf of Parnu, Wednesday, 2 November 1949

Officially Vize-admiral August Becker was merely an observer for this exercise – command of Einzatzgruppe 71.3 was vested in Konteradmiral Arthur Hoffmann – but every man on the Coronel’s bridge was aware of the Becker’s close interest in progress of the landings. The flow of reports form units ashore and from the ships gathered in the bay flowed into the ship’s operationszentrale where they were translated into maps, charts, and coherent reports.

These confirmed that progress thus far was good. The first waves of troops were ashore and moving inland; the major opposition thus far came from the boggy terrain and the limited road net, which kept even marching riflemen to the few metalled tracks. The village of Rootsiküla had been secured, and on the beach below the village the construction troops had finished securing the pontoon causeways over which supplies and heavy equipment could be brought in.

Hoffmann approached. “Herr Admiral, the Wettin and the Wittelsbach have reached their anchorages and begun deployment of their amphibious lorries.”

“Excellent!” Becker checked the timeclock on the bulkhead. “Ahead of schedule – are there any reports of opposition?” That the exercise postulated no opposing troops did not mean to Becker that their allies might throw a spanner into the works.

“Not yet Herr Admiral.”

204

Thursday, October 22nd 2020, 3:12am

Operation Concert (7)

Vicinity of Reiu, Wednesday, 2 November 1949

Reaching the road to the village of Reiu was not the end of the problems that would confront the leading elements of the 153rd Naval Infantry Brigade. The road – or more correctly a narrow forest track, was barely wide enough for a single infantry carrier, while the accompanying T-45 tanks kept knocking into trees, slowing their progress as well as the pace of any vehicle behind them. Worse yet, in the haste to reach their objectives two columns of vehicles now found themselves face to face at a junction of paths with those in charge disinclined to yield.

“My tanks are supposed to be leading the way to Parnu you buffoons! Get out of our way!” Sergeant Arseny Mironov of the 153rd Brigade Independent Tank Squadron screamed from the hatch of his tank’s turret.”

Sergeant Mikhail Devyatayev of the brigade’s 3rd Battalion, wasn’t ready to yield a centimetre. “My lads can walk to Parnu faster than you can drive there, and not knock down a tree every five meters!”

Their argument had grown quite heated, and loud. It had even attracted an audience. Vereshchagin turned to the trio of troops behind him and whispered. “I think that these fellow need some guidance. Follow me.” With that he stepped out from the forest’s undergrowth into the clearing half-filled with troops and vehicles.

“What is going on here!” The two sergeants turned in his direction and noted the single silver star on Vereshchagin’s collar tabs. Their verbal argument cooled quickly. “Who is the senior officer here?”

A sheepish Mironov explained that his company commander was stuck six vehicles down the column behind several trees brought down by a collision with trees. Devyatayev’s explanation was even more embarrassing – his company commander had been lost in the forest, his whereabouts unknown.

Vereshchagin shook his head. “Sergeant, back your tank up and let these foot-soldiers advance. The main road to Parnu is half a kilometre ahead – let them secure it and then you can advance together. It’s well marked. The T-45 Grom clanked out of the way, and the infantry began to move up. “Sergeant Jahhimovits – take charge of traffic control here until brigade staff gets someone out here.” One of the troopers with Vereshchagin nodded, slung his rifle, and began to direct traffic like a country policeman.

The accompanying referee desperately tried to keep a straight face at the audacity of the Spetsnaz officer. The road in question would not take them further than Reiu, the road to Parnu being further inland. He also knew that the 3rd Battalion’s officer was not lost – but had been captured by Vereshchagin’s men and was now a ‘prisoner’.

For his part Vereshchagin and the rest of his men filtered back into the forest to see what other delays they might impose.

205

Friday, October 23rd 2020, 1:10am

Operation Concert (8)

Rootsiküla, Sanglaid Island, Wednesday, 2 November 1949

Oberst Friedrich von Mellenthin had established his headquarters in the village hall, having first obtained permission from the rector of the parish council. His lead elements were marching northward along the road to the village of Lemsi, and he expected that it would be secured before noon. At the moment his biggest headaches were the marshy ground that kept his troops confined to established tracks and the slow pace at which his construction troops were laying down the Sommerfeld tracking that would keep vehicles from bogging down as the worked their way off the beach.

Captain Yevgeny Pepelyaev, who with a dozen Spetsnaz troops had been assigned the task to ‘defend’ the island sat in the door of a hut across from the village hall – observing the German headquarters with interest. He wore civilian clothing – he doubted very much that if caught the Germans would shoot him as a spy – and carefully noted their progress. Unlike his superior, Vereshchagin, on the mainland, the terrain on Sanglaid was too small and too open for him to play fun-and-games in the daylight. Better to wait and observe, prepared to take advantage of the darkness that would come soon enough.

“Herr Oberst, Commander Bataillon 308 reports that he has reached the Linaküla road cut-off”

Von Mellenthin checked the map – Linaküla was on the far side of the island, approachable via a decent – for Sanglaid – road that wound its way through one of the thicker patches of forest.

“Continue advance towards Lemsi in support of Bataillon 307.” He would order his reserve, Bataillon 309, to secure Linaküla and then move on Sääreküla, site of the island’s incomplete airstrip.

206

Sunday, October 25th 2020, 2:05am

Operation Concert (9)

Large Landing Craft Stepan Novikov, Gulf of Parnu, Wednesday, 2 November 1949

With the majority of the 153rd Brigade ashore Captain First Rank Korotayev’s responsibilities devolved to assuring that the follow-on waves of naval infantry reached the Red Beach 2 in the order requested by General Shokalsky, and coordinating the efforts of the naval support group under Captain Second Rank Pavel Alexandrov. While progress ashore was being made the reports reaching the Stepan Novikov indicated that the naval infantry had run into a series of minor setbacks that delayed – but did not stop – their advance.

Across the bay it appeared that their German allies had secured their primary objective of the village of Rootsiküla while their advance element were about to enter the village of Lemsi, home to the island’s fishing fleet and jumping off point for Phase Two of the exercise. He would have liked to observe the German landing operations for himself but had been forced by circumstances to nominate one of his staff officers to act as liaison and official observer. He trusted that Senior Lieutenant Perov would be thorough and insightful.

*****

Vasily Perov had sailed into Pernau Bay aboard the German headquarters-ship Coronel, but had gone ashore with the third wave of troops. He noted with interest the floating pontoon piers the Germans had laid out into deeper water, which hastened the landing of equipment and supplies. He looked with envy on the large amphibious ships that were the centre of what seemed an endless shuttle of bolshoi avtomobil vodoplavayushchiy – which delivered troops and supplies straight to growing supply dumps. He had managed a five-minute conversation with Oberleutnant zur See Lassen – the officer the Germans referred to as Die Strandmeister – before Lassen abruptly ordered him off ‘his’ beach and went back to ordering the next wave of vehicles coming ashore.

In contrast to his own experiences in amphibious operations, Perov was struck by the deliberateness of the Germans. One would think that they were planning to stay; admittedly, Sanglaid was to serve as a base for second phase of the exercise, but why bring ashore – and set up – antiaircraft artillery? Nothing in the outline of the exercise called for air opposition – indeed, the air was filled with La-9 fighters playing the role of air cover.

Perov found he could catch a lift into the village of Rootsiküla having learned that the German headquarters was located there.

207

Thursday, October 29th 2020, 12:40am

Operation Concert (10)

Raeküla, Pernau, Wednesday, 2 November 1949

The village of Raeküla was little more than a collection of cottages that bordered the junction of several trackways, but it was the objective of the 153rd Naval Infantry Brigade – one that should have been in their hands several hours ago. However, the difficulties of negotiating their vehicles through the forest, discovering that their maps did not match the road signs that sent the advance elements to the four winds, and unexpected road blocks had cost the brigade several hours and the loss of a number of officers and men – taken by ‘ghosts’ that seemed able to move invisibly through the thick mass of trees. But they had reached the road that led to the junction of the river Reiu and Parnu, at which point the brigade was to secure a crossing of the latter.

The column of infantry carriers picked up speed as the trees thinned by the road side. It was little more than two kilometres to the river where the accompanying pioneers would begin to construct a bridge. Suddenly the lead vehicle came to an abrupt halt. A sign ahead read “Preduprezhdeniye - vperedi miny” – Danger – landmines ahead.

Sergeant Mikhail Devyatayev swore. “Is this someone’s idea of a joke?” He noted that a pair of referees had walked up alongside his infantry carrier.

“What is the problem Sergeant?”

“Another ‘fallen tree’. You are taking delight in slowing us down.”

“Not us Sergeant. We merely observe and score,” said the first. The second added “right now you are delaying yourself.”

Muttering an imprecation Devyatayev ordered his driver to advance.

In the undergrowth Vereshchagin and several of his men watched exchange and checked their equipment, waiting for the column to advance. He smiled as it did so – and allowed the leading TB-42s to get out of the ‘kill zone’. When he saw the first piece of bridging equipment come into view he signalled an emphatic ‘chop’ to his men.

The trip flares rose angrily into the sky, playing the role of improvised explosive devices, and brought the column again to a halt. The referees went back to their clip-boards, made notes, then marked several vehicles as ‘damaged’, one as ‘destroyed’, and about fourteen pioneers as ‘dead’ or ‘wounded’.

Vereshchagin estimated that the advance of the naval infantry had been dealt at least an hour’s delay – ad they would pay more attention to the signs his men had liberally posted. It would be dark before they reached the Parnu.

208

Friday, October 30th 2020, 11:19pm

Operation Concert (11)

Lemsi, Sanglaid Island, Wednesday, 2 November 1949

It was mid-afternoon when von Mellenthin arrived in Lemsi with his tactical headquarters. On the whole he was pleased with the progress for the day. The fishing port of Lemsi had been secured by Bataillon 307 and already marinefährprahm were landing supplies for the brigade’s continued advance. Perov had attached himself to the German commander and already had made many mental notes for his report to Captain Korotayev.

“Colonel, will you continue your advance today?” Perov estimated that there was little more than two hours of light left.

Von Mellenthin checked the situation map before answering. “Bataillon 309 should secure Linaküla before nightfall, and while I had planned to have it secure Sääreküla tomorrow, Bataillon 308 will continue its advance and secure it, now that Lemsi is in our hands.” Sanglaid was such a small island that units were rarely out of touch with their supports.

Perov wondered how thing might have been different had the island been contested. At least the Germans had had the forethought to secure their beachhead. The map showed Sicherungs-Abteilung 202, together with the construction troops, deployed across the southern portion of the island.

Perov translated in his mind – “Security Detachment”… “Colonel, these security troops – surely you do not contemplate issues with the civilian population?”

The German shook his head. “A better translation might be ‘Defence Detachment. Antiaircraft artillery to protect against air raids, coast-artillery to project against counter-invasion – though they have been left behind for this exercise. A small infantry detachment, primarily to guard the supply dumps. You will forgive me if I do not put it past your fellow-citizens to pilfer whatever might be left lying about.” Perov had to admit that it was not beyond the Estonian peasantry to steal anything they might get their hands on.

Suddenly the radio crackled to life. Bataillon 309 had run into a road block outside of Linaküla and had incurred some casualties and damage to vehicles. The exercise had ceased to be just a walk in the sun.

209

Thursday, November 5th 2020, 12:40am

Operation Concert (12)

Outskirts of Linaküla, Wednesday, 2 November 1949

Captain Arkady Babchenko, leader of the referees assigned to the spearhead of the German marine rifle battalion 309 sat by the roadside writing up his assessment of the ‘fire-fight’ that had erupted when the advancing Germans encountered the road block erected by four of Pepelyaev’s Spetsnaz troopers. Their initial fusillade had caught the Germans unawares, inflicting a number of ‘casualties’ and ‘damaging’ the leading vehicles with simulated land mines. Babchenko estimated that an hour’s delay had been imposed and in the failing light the German battalion commander opted to hold his present position rather than advance on the village. A conventional if understandable decision. What impressed Babchenko was the rapidity with which the Germans – though surprised – returned heavy automatic weapons fire. It seemed as if every rifleman was in fact equipped with a light machinegun. The suppressive fire was such that that Babchenko’s opposite numbers monitoring the Spetsnaz troopers had estimated half the quartet were casualties.

Just then a field car pulled up, bearing von Mellenthin and a Russian officer unknown to Babchenko. The German battalion commander explained the situation and his rationale for halting his advance. This did not please von Mellenthin who expressed himself with vigour.

“You have an hour of daylight left – I expect you to secure the village before nightfall. Don’t let the enemy regroup – it will be harder for you in the morning.” With that the tired column of marine riflemen returned to their advance.

Perov spent a few moments with Babchenko, comparing notes.

210

Friday, November 6th 2020, 5:23pm

Operation Concert (13)

The Pernau-Tori Road, Wednesday, 2 November 1949

General Shokalsky was filled with anger when he finally reached the headquarters of his advance guard near the junction of the Reiu and the Pernau. They had nearly lost the light for the day and only now were his pioneers preparing to float the pontoon for a bridge across the Pernau. This they should have achieved by noon. The delays and mis-directions brought about by the hundreds of partisans that had opposed his advance had not been part of the operational plan. Having encouraged his troop to continue their efforts into the night he made his way to the local school that was serving as headquarters for the exercise.

He stormed into the room occupied by the chief referee prepared to give a hiding to that unfortunate officer but caught himself short when he glimpsed Lieutenant-General Grigori Alexandrov, chief of staff for the Baltic Military District.

“Georgy Maximilianovich, have a chair. You look rather upset. Kasha, some tea for General Shokalsky.”

Thus disarmed Shokalsky fumbled for words. “General… I protest the deployment of hundreds of partisans to disrupt the exercise. My men were delayed at every turn, sent down wrong roads; they received false orders… and others were kidnapped…”

Alexandrov smiled at the last. “Taken prisoner… but that is a matter of semantics.” He turned to one of his assistants. “Would you call in Major Vereshchagin and his men please?”

As the camouflage-fatigue troopers filed in Alexandrov continued his explanation. “General Shokalsky, please meet Major Timo Vereshchagin of the Spetsnaz – he and the men you see here were the partisans who delayed you. They took advantage of your overconfidence and expectation. What is the first rule of warfare?”

“That no plan survives contact with the enemy.”

“Precisely. Phase One of Concert is over for today, and tomorrow you and your troops will re-embark for Phase Two. As you draw up your plans for taking the Tõstamaa peninsula, I would ask you consider that.”

211

Saturday, November 7th 2020, 10:21pm

Operation Concert (14)

Rootsiküla, Sanglaid Island, Wednesday, 2 November 1949

Pepelyaev had spent the hours of daylight observing the Germans developing their supply base – dumps of food, fuel, and other supplies had grown significantly. For their part the Germans seemed to have gone out of their way to respect the local population, even going so far as sharing some of their rations with them, making particular friends with the local population. It seemed very much as though the ‘occupying troops’ had with them a significant number of Estonian speakers.

As darkness began to fall Pepelyaev left his ‘hide’ and scuttled through the growing shadow to rendezvous with the three troopers had retained in this part of the island before beginning to raise merry hell by spiking the German depots with simulated explosives. As he approached the hut at which he was to meet his men something struck him as strange. Rootsiküla was a straggling village, with its cottages well spread out, but at this hour at least one or two of them ought to have lights burning; but all were dark. There were no sounds of dogs barking, and he knew that there should be dogs in the neighbourhood. He stopped at the door of the hut, placed his hand on the latch, and listened. He was about to enter when a voice came out of the darkness.

“Hände hoch! Mach keine Bewegung!”

A trio of uniformed Germans appeared out of the darkness and took him prisoner. Pepelyaev realized that he had been expected.

“Herzlichen Glückwunsch, meine Herren. Sag mir, bin ich dein einziger Fang?”

The officer in charge replied to his question in passable Russian. “No. Your men have already been taken. It is time to report your apprehension to the referees.”

Returned to the town hall where the German kept their headquarters Pepelyaev was reunited with his fellow Spetsnaz troopers, and all had the opportunity to sample German rations while the referees reviewed their activities of the day. The Germans had checkmated them through the simple expedient of enlisting the village children to point out to them any strangers – a task in which their elders aided and abetted them. This lack of patriotism was something Pepelyaev had not counted on.

212

Saturday, November 14th 2020, 12:43am

Advanced Base Ship Coronel, Irbe Strait, Monday, 7 November 1949

Coronel, together with most of the German vessels that had taken part in Operation Concert were homeward bound. Vize-admiral Becker was in the midst of reviewing the initial reports that had been filed – the formal after-action review would take place in a week’s time – but he wanted the raw input from the Kriegsmarine officers that had taken part; reviewing all their reports would take most of the voyage back to Kiel. But he had already made some personal judgments.

All things considered, the exercise had gone well. The difficulties encountered by his Russian allies he marked up to overconfidence, and their performance in the second phase of the exercise – securing the Tõstamaa Peninsula – had been textbook. His own forces had done their assigned duties well and Oberst von Mellenthin had shown initiative in securing Maniland Island on day two rather than waiting until day three. While he still admired the capabilities of the Russian Kazarsky-class large landing ships he was fully satisfied with the mix of large and small landing ships – to say nothing of the Wittelsbachs – that got troops, vehicles, and supplies ashore in swift order. He was particularly happy with the performance of the amphibious lorries carried by the dock landing ships by the dozen. He checked the desk calendar and made a mental note – the first of the Höllpass vehicle landing ships would be due to complete in days. That would be one more arrow in the Kriegsmarine’s quiver.

213

Tuesday, November 17th 2020, 11:53pm

Marinestützpunkt Warnemünde, Saturday, 12 November 1949

Konteradmiral Glaser had presided over many pre-graduation inspections for ships of the Lehrdivision, but this was a first. The ships he visited today had only just returned from participating in Operation Concert – the joint amphibious exercise with their Russian allies, and they still bore the stains of active operations. But the crews of the coastal escorts Ostwind and Passat, together with those of the small landing ships, had acquitted themselves well – the congratulatory message from Vize-admiral Becker had extolled their excellent performance. The high morale and sense of accomplishment of the men overbore any lack of spit and polish. They would now be released to join the ever-growing strength of the Atlantik-Flotte; in weeks they would be followed by ever more new vessels as they completed their training.