What is heroism? Another page from history, about the persistent six-month defense of the Osovets fortress, about the "attack of the dead" and the brave sentry who has been in office for 9 years.
Under the white flag of the envoy, a German officer appeared in the Osovets fortress and said to General M. S. Svechnikov:
“We give you half a million imperial marks for the surrender of the forts. Believe me, this is not a bribe or bribery - this is a simple calculation that during the assault on Osovets we will spend half a million marks worth of shells. It is more profitable for us to spend the cost of the shells, but save the shells themselves. Do not surrender the fortress - I promise you, in forty-eight hours Osovets as such will cease to exist!
Svechnikov answered the parliamentarian politely:
- I suggest you stay with me. If Osovets stands in forty-eight hours, I will hang you. If Osovets is surrendered, please be so kind as to hang me. But we won't take money!
Osovets fortress, attack of the dead and permanent sentry
Poland, 1924 …
- Are you sure about that? - the dapper Polish colonel looked with disbelief at the former colonel of the tsarist army. He did not like the Russians, but he hated the Reds in general; two of his brothers were killed in the battles for Warsaw. But this old man standing opposite him, with an unkempt face, in a shabby greatcoat, obviously fought for the whites. That is why I became an emigrant.
- Absolutely sure. I planted the explosives myself. The warehouse was not mined. There are huge reserves.
The Polish officer, pondering something, slowly walked around the office.
-Are you looking forward to a reward? He asked finally.
The elderly colonel nodded in the affirmative. The Pole's mistrust was replaced for a minute by sympathy. He knew very well what kind of existence the Russian emigrants were eking out.
“If everything turns out to be as you said,” he summed up, “we'll pay you well.
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They dug for a long time the blocked entrance, then slowly descended into the dungeon. Soon we stumbled upon the stone vault of an underground tunnel. With difficulty breaking through a wide hole, the soldiers stopped, not daring to go further, and the non-commissioned officer was the first to descend into the darkness of the warehouse with a torch. It was eerily quiet around. And suddenly … Before the non-commissioned officer had time to take a few steps, from somewhere in the dark depths of the tunnel, a resolute voice rang out: "Stop, who is coming?"
Unther froze: in a tightly filled underground warehouse, where no man's foot had stepped for many years, he stood at the sentry post! The idea that there might be a living person in this abandoned dungeon seemed completely incredible. Frightened, the non-commissioned officer hurried upstairs to the waiting comrades, where he received a good thrashing from the officer for cowardice and stupid inventions. Having ordered the non-commissioned officer to follow him, the officer himself went down into the dungeon. And again, as soon as they moved along the dark and damp tunnel, from somewhere in front, from the impenetrable black mist, the sentry's voice sounded just as menacing and resolute: "Stop, who is coming?" The bolt of the rifle clanged. The sentry stood at his post and carried out his service in strict accordance with the military regulations.
After thinking and rightly deciding that the evil spirits hardly have a rifle, the officer, who spoke Russian well, called out to the invisible soldier and explained who he was and why he had come. The answer was completely unexpected: the sentry said that he was put here to guard the warehouse, and he could not allow anyone into the dungeon until he was replaced at his post. Then the stunned officer asked if the sentry knew how long he had been here, underground. “Yes, I know,” he replied. “I took office nine years ago, in August one thousand nine hundred and fifteen.
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This war in Europe was called differently: the Four Years, the Great, the Great European; in Russia, the Second Patriotic War (the First Patriotic War meant the war of 1812), the Austro-German, and later - the Imperialist. And also trench, trench, positional. And only after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, they began to call it as written in modern historical literature - the First World War. What do we, today's Russians, know about it? Almost nothing …
Patriotism … This feeling has always seized the Soviet people in the hours when danger loomed over the Motherland. We know very well what tremendous patriotism was observed at the end of June 1941, when the doors of military enlistment offices were stormed by thousands and thousands of volunteers. We remember from films and books how crowds of people see off their fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues to the front. "Get up, the country is huge!" But few people know that no less patriotism reigned in August 1914, when the First World War began. Also, the crowds under the march "Farewell of the Slav" and "We boldly go into battle" (only not "for the power of the Soviets", but "for Holy Russia - and as one we will shed young blood") escorted the volunteers to the front.
In Soviet times, starting from school textbooks, the opinion about the defeat of Russia in the First World War was instilled. For the most part, this was done by people who knew little or deliberately did not want to understand the history of that war. We were persistently told about the "rotten tsarist regime", about the "mediocrity" of the tsarist generals, about technical backwardness and unpreparedness for war (as if in 1941 we were ready for it). But "rotten tsarism" in 1914 carried out the mobilization clearly and without a hint of transport chaos. The "unprepared for war" Russian army under the command of "talentless" tsarist generals not only did not retreat to Moscow and the Volga, not only carried out timely deployment, but itself inflicted several powerful blows on the enemy, conducting a number of operations in enemy territory. Having played the role of a pull-back spring and taking on the main blows of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies, she bled them in a series of fierce battles and thereby saved France and England from defeat.
We add that Russia was almost the only country that did not experience problems with food (three days with an interruption of bread in Petrograd in February 1917, which led to the February revolution, does not count).
In World War I, Russia hit on a huge front from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Tsarist officers and their soldiers did not let the enemy go deep into the Fatherland. They had to retreat, but the army withdrew quite disciplinedly and by order. Yes, and the civilian population tried to evacuate whenever possible.
The "anti-popular tsarist regime" somehow did not think of repressing the families of soldiers and officers who were captured, and sending those who returned from captivity to the camps for 15 years. By the way, about captivity. In the First World War, 2,417,000 of our soldiers and officers were captured. For comparison: in the Great Patriotic War - 4,559,000, and according to German data - 5,270,000 people. The difference is obvious. The "oppressed nationalities" from their "prison of peoples" were in no hurry to go over to the enemy's side with whole armies. The captured soldiers and officers did not enroll in the "legions" to fight with arms against their own country. On the side of Kaiser's Germany in the First World War, a million Russian volunteers did not fight, there were no former Red Army soldiers - Vlasovites.
It was the first full-scale war, a kind of pan-European fight, in which everything that mankind created for its own destruction was used: aircraft and tanks, machine guns and flamethrowers, submarines and torpedo boats, mortars and bomb throwers, long-range super-heavy artillery, hand grenades, chemical shells and poisonous gases. Let's look at the numbers and facts. In 1914-1917, almost 16 million people from all classes, almost all nationalities were drafted into the Russian army. Is this not a real people's war? And these defenders of the Fatherland drafted into the army fought practically without the "help" of commissars and political instructors, without Chekists-Smershevites, without penal battalions and foreign detachments. Yielding to Germany on the eve of the war in heavy guns: 240 against 1688, Russia outstripped it in the number of light guns: 6848 against 4840. And, which is extremely important, of all the belligerent countries, Russia had the most aircraft - 263 against 232 for Germany, 156 for France and 90 off England. And such a giant as "Ilya Muromets", having received about 300 holes in one of the battles, safely landed at his airfield. And for the war, Russia rebuilt a new modern fleet to replace the one lost in the Russo-Japanese war. So where is the technical backwardness here?
And there was plenty of heroism among the warriors in the First World War. About one and a half million people were marked with the St. George Soldier's Cross. 33 thousand became full holders of the St. George awards of all four degrees (among them the well-known V. I. Chapaev). By November 1916, more than one and a half million medals were issued at the front for Bravery. At the same time, it should be noted that crosses and medals were not given to anyone for no reason at that time - only for military merit.
Let us dwell on just one episode of the First World War, which fully confirms the heroism of the soldiers.
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Osovets … does anyone know what it is and where is it? Let me explain. The Osovets Fortress is a supporting fortress, erected on the Bobra River near the town of Osovice (now the Polish city of Osovets-Fortress), 50 km from Bialystok. From 1795 to 1918, this territory was part of the Russian Empire. The fortress was built with the aim of defending the area, which was of strategic importance, since it was among it that the route from East Prussia and Austria to the western regions of the Russian Empire lay in this area. It was for this fortress that a bloody battle took place, which in its entirety confirmed the courage and staunchness of the soldiers and officers.
Since the beginning of the First World War, a number of fortresses were taken by the Germans in the shortest possible time. This created the impression of the impossibility of prolonged resistance of the fortresses in the presence of powerful siege artillery, which Germany had at its disposal. Meanwhile, Osovets, which was a relatively small fortress of unfinished construction, fought confidently, stretching the front in both directions for 20-25 versts. The defenders of the fortress proved that man was and remains the main weapon of struggle, and his belief in success is stronger than any artillery, even super-powerful.
By the beginning of the First World War, the garrison of the fortress was headed by Lieutenant General A. A. Shulman. In January 1915, he was replaced by Major General N. A. Brzhozovsky, who commanded the fortress until the end of the garrison's active operations in August 1915. The garrison consisted of one infantry regiment (compatriot regiment), two artillery divisions, a sapper unit and support units. The garrison was armed with 200 guns of caliber from 57 to 203 mm. The infantry was armed with rifles, light and heavy machine guns.
The Germans launched their first onslaught in September 1914. Installing large-caliber guns, they bombed the fortress for six days. Having failed to achieve the surrender of the fortress, they began a siege of it in January 1915. For this, the famous "Big Berts" were delivered - siege guns of 420-mm caliber, 800-kilogram shells of which broke through two-meter steel and concrete floors. The crater from such an explosion was five meters deep and fifteen in diameter. The Germans calculated that to force the surrender of a fortress with a garrison of a thousand men, two such guns and 24 hours of bombardment are enough: 360 shells, every four minutes - a volley. Four "Big Berts" and 64 other powerful siege weapons were brought near Osovets, a total of 17 batteries.
But the defenders of the fortification survived. Moreover, the fire of our batteries destroyed a number of siege weapons, including two "Big Berts". The second line of positions of the troops also survived. This failure forced the German command to switch to positional actions in this sector of the front, which continued until early July.
And in early July 1915, under the command of Field Marshal von Hindenburg, German troops launched a large-scale offensive. His plans also included a new assault on the still unconquered fortress of Osovets.
Failing to achieve success with artillery fire and numerous attacks, on August 6, 1915 at 4 o'clock in the morning, after waiting for the desired direction of the wind, the German troops used poisonous gases against the defenders of the fortress. The defenders of the fortress did not have gas masks. According to eyewitnesses, under the influence of gases, the grass turned yellow, the leaves on the trees curled up and fell off. The gases inflicted huge losses on the defenders: three companies of the Zemlyachsky regiment were killed entirely, in four others there were about 100 people with three machine guns. Inhabitants of the surrounding villages also suffered greatly.
Convinced that the garrison defending the fortress was dead, the Germans went on the attack: 14 battalions - no less than 7 thousand infantrymen. And suddenly, when the German infantry approached the forward fortifications of the fortress, the remaining defenders of the first line - a little more than 60 people - rose to meet them in a counterattack. The counterattackers looked scary: with their faces mutilated by gas burns, wrapped in rags, shaking from a terrible cough, spitting out pieces of lungs on bloody gymnasts. The unexpected attack and the sight of the attackers plunged the Germans into horror. Several dozen half-dead Russian soldiers sent parts of the 18th Infantry Regiment of the German army to stampede. The attack by a handful of Russian infantry was supported by serf artillery.
Dear reader, believe me, everything that is described here is not fiction - it was! Later, participants in the events from the German side and European journalists dubbed this counterattack as an "attack of the dead." This was the most tragic and at the same time heroic episode in the defense of the fortress.
By August 1915, due to general changes at the front, the strategic need to defend the fortress lost its meaning. Therefore, the command of the Russian army decided to end the defense of the fortress and evacuate its garrison. On August 18, the evacuation of the garrison began, which proceeded without panic, in accordance with the plan. Everything that could not be removed, and the surviving fortifications were blown up by sappers. During the retreat, the Russian troops, whenever possible, organized the evacuation of the civilian population. The withdrawal of troops ended on 22 August. On August 25, German troops entered an empty, ruined fortress.
Major General Brzhozovsky was the last to leave the deserted fortress. He approached a group of sappers located half a kilometer from the fortress. A painful silence reigned. Having looked for the last time at his exhausted but invincible fortress, Brzhozovsky himself turned the handle of the explosive device. There was a terrible roar, fountains of earth shot up into the sky, interspersed with bricks and pieces of reinforced concrete. Osovets died, but did not give up !!!
This was the end of the 190-day heroic defense of the Osovets fortress.
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On the day the warehouse was blown up, he was standing in an underground tunnel at the post. The sappers were in a great hurry, and no one came down to check if there were any people left in the warehouse. In the rush of evacuation, the chief of the guard forgot about the underground post. And the sentry, regularly carrying out service, patiently waited for the change. And suddenly … where the sunlight was coming from, there was an explosion of incredible force. The earth shook, and immediately impenetrable darkness formed around.
Coming to his senses, the soldier realized what had happened to him. But he managed to overcome despair, although not immediately. Life went on, and it was necessary to get acquainted with their underground housing. And they, by a lucky coincidence, turned out to be a large quartermaster warehouse, in which there were significant reserves of food - crackers, canned food, etc., as well as uniforms. There was also water. The walls of the warehouse were always damp, and puddles were squelching on the floor here and there underfoot. Through some invisible pores of the earth, air penetrated into the warehouse, and it was possible to breathe without difficulty.
The warehouse also held huge stocks of stearic candles, and for the first four years the sentry could light up his dungeon. But one day a burning candle caused a fire. He, almost suffocating, had to wage a desperate struggle with the fire. He still extinguished the fire, but at the same time all supplies of candles and matches burned out. From now on, he was doomed to eternal darkness.
He also had to wage war. No, not with people - with rats. These creatures multiplied with such a terrifying speed and behaved so audaciously that the war lasted all 9 years.
He, the underground sentry, had his own calendar. Every day, when a pale ray of light was extinguished at the top, in the narrow opening of the ventilation shaft, the soldier made a notch on the wall. He even kept track of the days of the week - on Sunday the notch was longer than the others. And when Saturday came, he, as befits a Russian man, sacredly observed the bath day. True, he could not really wash himself: in the pits he dug, there was only enough water for drinking and washing. His weekly "bath" consisted in the fact that he went to the section of the warehouse, where the uniform was kept, and took from the bale a clean pair of soldier's underwear and new footcloths. Having put them on, he neatly stacked dirty linen in a pile. This foot, growing every week, was his calendar. That is why the sentry so confidently answered the question of the Polish officer how much time he spent underground.
And he kept his weapons in good order, because he was a warrior, a defender of the Fatherland. His 1891 three-line rifle was well-cleaned, and the bolt and barrel were oiled with oil that remained after he opened canned food. The clips of cartridges were kept in the same proper order.
All this was the outer side of his underground captivity, his loneliness. And what was going on in his soul during these long 9 years, it is not difficult to guess. He was alone with himself, with his memory, which kept the events of his still young life in all the smallest details: childhood, home, clear sky, faces of relatives and friends, comrades, soldiers and much more. Fearing to forget the living speech, he spent hours talking aloud with them - who had become for him the ghosts of his own memory. The richest imagination would be powerless to imagine that the underground sentry has changed his mind and felt over the years.
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The non-commissioned officer and several soldiers who descended into the dungeon followed the officer, stunned, peering at the black silhouette of the sentry. He still did not let anyone near him. Long negotiations began. They explained to the sentry what had happened on earth during these nine years, they told that the tsarist army in which he served no longer exists. There is not even the king himself, not to mention the breeder and the chief of the guard. And the territory he still guards belongs to Poland. After a long silence, the soldier asked who was in charge in Poland. He was told that the president. Then he demanded his order. And only when Pilsudski's telegram was read to him, the sentry agreed to leave his post.
Polish soldiers helped him climb up to the summer, sun-drenched land. Suddenly the sentry shouted loudly, covering his face with his hands. Only then did the Poles realize that he had spent many years in pitch darkness and that he had to be blindfolded before being taken outside. But it was too late - the soldier, unaccustomed to sunlight, went blind. He was hastily reassured, promising to show him good doctors. And only after that the Poles began to look at this extraordinary warrior. Thick, dark hair fell in messy braids on his back and shoulders, down below the waist. A black, wide beard reached the knees. The face was almost invisible. But this underground Robinson was dressed in a solid overcoat with shoulder straps, and on his feet he had almost new boots. And what amazed most of all: his rifle was in excellent condition.
The recluse was put in order and taken to Warsaw. There, the doctors who examined him found that he had gone blind forever. Sensational journalists could not ignore such an event, and soon the story of the forgotten sentry appeared on the pages of Polish newspapers. When the officers read this article to their subordinates, they said: "Learn how to carry out military service with this brave Russian soldier."
The sentry was offered to stay in Poland, but he was eager to go home, because he was the defender of the Fatherland, even if it was now called differently. The Soviet Union greeted the soldier of the tsarist army more than modestly. And his feat remained unsung - at that time it was believed that only a Soviet person could become a hero. Therefore, the feat of a soldier of the First World War turned into a legend, into a legend that did not preserve the main thing - the name of the hero.
True, one should make a reservation. The writer-historian S. S. Smirnov in his book “Stories of Unknown Heroes (1963) tells about a permanent sentry, allegedly the defender of the Brest Fortress (apparently, for ideological reasons, not naming Osovets). Its publication was followed by many responses, and in many of them the readers cited specifically the name and surname of the hero. More than 20 places of the Soviet Union, the most diverse in their geography, considered it an honor to name the permanent sentry as their fellow countryman. Surnames and names are also all different. So let him remain an unknown legendary hero, like his comrades in arms, soldiers and officers of the Osovets fortress. They, like their ancestors and descendants in the wars on the Kulikovo field, near Poltava and Borodino, in the battles of the Great Patriotic War, also defended their Motherland and defended it with dignity.