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Yasen Djachenko

May, 9 2005 the World selebrated 60-year jubelee of the Victory in the Second World War. 27 millions of Russian soldies lost their lives in that War. This story - about Second World War events on Caucasus.

Yasen Dyachenko (born in 1930) is the expert in Russian mountaneering history. He was the famous high-altitude climber in USSR in 60-70-80-s , the Master of Sports, Snow Leopard, the many time winner of the USSR mountaneering Championship, the member of the first Russian Himalaya combined team (which couldn't go to Tibet because of difficult political situation between USSR and China in 1959).. Yasen
lived in Leningrad (now - Saint Petersburg), now he lives in Finland, not far from
his native city.

The War

The War had come to mountains in the summer 1942 . In the second year of War after
the winter defeat near Moscow and a failure of the lightning war, which was planned,
Hitler has intended to grasp Northern Caucasus and Azerbaijan oil fields and to
cut a waterway of petrosupply of Russia across Volga in Stalingrad area. Transcaucasus operation has been assigned to the group of German Armies "South A".

Having crushed the Russian counterattack attempt on Isum-Barvenkovsk direction,
groups of Armies "South A" and "South B" have gone to their planned objects: "South B" to Stalingrad, "South A" - to Caucasus. Rostov-Don - "a gate of Caucasus" has been occupied on July, 23. The tank army led by general-colonel Ervin fon Klejst has moved along the Caucasian ridge to the Southeast, going to Derbent pass between the Caucasian ridge and Caspian sea.

Divisions moved ahead. Krasnodar city has been occupied on August, 9, 1942, the 1-st tank army led by Ervin fon Klejst has thundered on foothills. Maikop has been occupied on August, 10. Klejst army has continued its movement along the Main Caucasian ridge, having Grozny, Makhachkala, Baku as an objects. The 49th mountain army led by General R.Konrad, have begun the expansion by front on the South from Tuapse road up to Mamison pass - according to the plan of "Edelweiss" action (to cross the Main Caucasian ridge and intrusion into Transcaucasus). It was the beginning of the Caucasus battle.

The action is named after the 1-st mountain division "Edelweiss". Vermacht thoroughly prepared for еру War on all possible battlefields - both in desert, and in Arctic regions, but the special place was borrowed with mountain armies. There were some specialized divisions of Mountain Huntsmen in Vermacht structure, and indoubtedly elite division completed by locals of mountain areas of Southern Germany, Bavaria and Austria was allocated among them. These guys were single and not younger than 24. They possessed fine training of operations in mountain above a snow line. They have been trained to move at all forms of a mountain relief, to choose a position for supervision, for fight points, for an ambush and an attack, for defense. There is no need to write that their equipment and gear was the best for that time. All arms, provisions has been adapted for pack transportation. All kinds of shooting arms have been extremely facilitated, but have standard calibres, and, that the most important, their aim systems have been calculated in view of a corner of an eminence down to firing vertically upwards or vertically downwards.
The officers has fine region maps of the whole battlefield and many officers had climbing experience received particularly on Caucasus before the War. And, at last, they had the faultless radio communications. Any minute leaders could receive the information on a site, character of battle conditions of each platoon separate battery.

The situation in Red Army was absolutely opposite. In their majority, as a rule, climbers possessed the aggravated feeling of a civic duty. And it is not surprising, that many days before the War, the USSR mountaneering society members wrote repeatedly and persistently to State Commissar of the Defenses Ministry with the offer on the organization special mountain armies and offers of climbers participation in this action.

Pity, absolutely other strategy had been professed by Defense Ministry

The Red Army had no specialized mountain divisions. It is terrible even to think of destiny of those parts and divisions which, being cut off from a way on the Southeast by an avalanche of German tanks, have gone to foothills of gorges of the Main Caucasus Ridge. Without maps, without radio communication with staffs and with each other, they went up by numerous gorges of the Western and Central Caucasus, reaching sooner or later a glacial zone. It is difficult to image the behavior of the people exhausted by long transitions, wear in bad army boots on a glacier. And they was under aim machine-gun fire! Those who could see rare films of German military chronicle, and those whose fathers were lost their lives in this terrible battle, hardly could stop their tears. I saw it
and could not.

The German Mountain Huntsmen from Edelweiss went by small groups on mountains, overtaking our armies. They could take nobody in a captivity, they had an order - "defeat fire". Going to passes, "Edelweiss" moved ahead promptly. The geomorphology of Northern Caucasus is those, that the rivers of the Western Caucasus feed Kuban river. They as numerous streams go strictly on the North (White, Big Laba, Big Zelenchuk,
Small Zelenchuk, Kuban). German Alpin armies moved via their gorges to passes
Maruhsky and Kluhorsky. The rivers of the Central Caucasus feed river Terek. Going
to the North, they further turn on the East, and further are almost parallel to a
Main Caucasus Ridge, therefore are less favourable to attack. The commander of a
division "Edelweiss" has made therefore absolutely correct decision: to come on
gorges of the rivers of Kuban region with an output to Maruh pass (river Small
Zelenchuk), Teberda, Uchkulan (Kuban region) and, having left on Kluhor pass,
simultaneously, through Hotju-Tau pass, to block upper part of Baksan river
region and Donguz-Orun and Becho passes.

Thus, Kluhor pass became that strategic direction which solved all unit of problems of a debut stage of an altitude-zone part of "Edelweiss" action. If success it fixe the positions to the west from Teberda (gorge Maruh) and to the east (Baksan).

This very important strategy position was defenced by 815-th infantry column. I have already written, that the initial position of "Edelweiss" action on the line Krasnodar - Pyatigorsk - Maikop has been reached on August, 10. Then it was followed really "tiger jump": on August, 15 German Alpin armies were in Teberda. On August, 16, having made false maneuver, a battalion led by fon Hirshfeld reached West ridge under the pass.. In the night fight Hirshfeld's soldies have dumped defenders from the pass and have promptly seized of the whole Southern slope. Germans have passed the Main Caucasus Ridge and have entered gorge Kodar..

It is not surprising, that both - commander of a division "Edelweiss" general-
lieutenant Lants, and the commander of 49-th mountain army general-colonel Konrad
were themselves observing over the fight. The debut part of action has been solved. Germans, having ascent through Aksaut, have taken hold of a crest and have forced Russians to turn back Besides, moving in parallel in upper part of Kuban region, the German Alpine soldies already reached Hotju-Tau and Chiper-Asau passes on August, 15. This action opened the way to Baksan valley upper part.

I think that those arguments and reasons which had being written by climbers even
before the War, at last have reached "copper foreheads ", and high rank army chiefs have attended to absence of the qualified climbers in the army structure. Certainly, it was already impossible to organize the divisions entirely consisting of climbers: all those thousand experienced soldiers have been already disseminated on boundless fields of battles on the different fronts. It was necessary to find and recall the most qualified of them for the completion of the parts which were already being in Caucasus, as advisers in staffs of operating divisions, for the organization of school of mountain training of lower and middle officers, for the organization of manufacture of climbing equipment. It was late, but ... reasons of climbers-patriots have reached the purpose.

I can't undestand why the information about this greatest feat of our fathers is
practically unknown in the World. The most of facts are discrabed in the monography of the unique mountaineer of a pre-war epoch of Alexander Gusev. The book's name is "Elbrus in the fight", Moscow, 1980. I was never luck to meet him. After the War he continued his way in Antarctica as the head of set of the Soviet expeditions. But everything, that I could learn about him, causes the surprise and admiration in my heart.
His military memoirs also are authentic and convincing. Facts about which he wrote - are terrible.

The War... He, as well as others - was in army. But not on the front, but in deep rear, in subtropics of Batumi on the Black sea coast. Gusev became the coach and instructor of the new-organisez 9th mountain division. Everything climbing gear that they had were hats for the soldiers and pack animals as a transport.

Very soon he understood that even the best snipers had empty targets if a corner of an eminence was more than 45 degrees. And so on: soldiers couldn't move at the complex relief, to set camps on a snow...It was nesessary to train all of hese from the base level.

It was necessary to organize officers training , and this problem was solved by climbers too: in Tbilisi the school on retraining for lower commanders has been urgently organized. They needed the climbing gear and equipment manufacture, needed crampons, sleeping bags, folding small houses, tents, small stoves. Fortunately, Transcaucasian front leaders had understood the importance of the problem and initiatives of climbers on defense of Caucasus.

And I should emphasize again, that it was done not owing to, but in contrary to
Communist party leaders. It was necessary to prove, demand, "punch". But the
War did not delay. The enemy has passed through the Main Caucasus Ridge. It was
necessary to liquidate urgently threat of an output of German Army to the Black Sea.

Two most experienced climbers Gusev and Gusak are recalled to Kluhor region. And soon they organized, prepared and personally managed three fighting actions.

By this time Germans, having seized Kluhor pass, have moved through it sufficient forces for promotion downwards by the valley to the sea. Skilfully maneuvering along the river Klych, they are ready to be pulled out on operative open space on a joint of southern gorges. It is practically impossible to stop their movement simply " in a forehead ".

The first of Gusev's actions began there. He suggested the latent pass on lateral
gorge to Klych pass in flank to German front. Both conceived and carried decisions are out axiomatically-is irreproachably - the approach to pass, capture of heights dominating over pass, attack, a victory! It is August 1942!

The first victory, the first captured! And who? The famous German Huntsmen, kings
of mountains. Really themselves did not trust in a reality of that event! Germans are
compelled to turn back to the pass. However, they still had the chance to attack
our forces on our right flank from Nahar pass. And then the second Gusev's action
was spent. Again latent moving on lateral gorge. Extremely difficult roundabout
maneuver on capture of dominating heights and capture of the pass. New German's

And, at last, the third and finishing action, already in winter conditions, in November-December, 1942. It is an output on lateral gorge Simli-Minari in rear of a German grouping on their right flank. Such nothing remarkable little gorge. (I did not know it's name, going down from Kluhor pass on a way to the sea. But in the War conditions that little gorge which was not interesting for athlets, became fatal for German Alpine Army) .

The action had been planned and realized by Gusev again. Having lead the group
on this gorge, and having left on a crest at height of 1360 m, he has appeared in
deep rear of the Germans. And it was in time! Short fight - and Germans have receded with losses. Gusev kept that position till December.

Having become stronger on a crest, having received a reinforcement and having
coordinated the actions with the armies located in a valley, climbers the coordinated impact from flank and linear parts from the positions in a valley have beaten out Germans from their position, having left them only the small space at a track to Kluhor pass.
Actually, the destiny of the Kluhor pass has been solved.

At the Central Caucasus Germans successfully have grasped pass Hotju-Tau in August, have borrowed the hat "Priut 11" on Elbrus slopes, reached Elbrus top on August, 21, 1942. But in the result of our climbers and armies skilful actions Germans have been beaten out from Bass pass, which was the strategically important " ice base " on Elbrus. In our hands there were also the major passes through the Main Caucasian Ridge - Becho and Donguz-Orun. Climbers-officers L.Kels, J.Gubanov, A.Sidorenko, V. Kuhtin, N.Marinets operated there. They played also roles of creators of fighting actions, mountain instructors, guides and made reconnaissances.

The winter came. October, 14, 1942 Hitler has given the order to East front armies for strategic defense, except Stalingrad, Nalchik and Tuapse areas. It is symbolical, that areas of actions in mountains are named at the same level with the greatest battle in the history of the Second World War - Stalingrad battle.
The position of armies group "South A" critically worsened. The commander of 1-st tank army general-colonel Ervin fon Klejst died near Mozdok. The well-known action - overcoming of 6-th army led by general Pauljus - begun on November, 19. Tank divisions of 1-st Klejst army have been thrown to the help of perishing 6-th army but group of Armies " South A" has got stuck in the middle of Caucasus, not having forces already to move forward. The fight for Caucasus promptly came to the logic end.

But actions in mountains did not stop. The initiative was intercepted by our mountain divisions. They already did not resemble those pure skilled and badly equipped soldiers of August, 1942. I'm involuntarily executed by pride of those who could win in a hearth of the War. And on Caucasus it has been done by climbers, first of all. Their enthusiasm
and utter devotion to a duty has allowed to become successful. The end of this unprecedented epopee is symbolical also - in February, 1943 the group of soldiers-climbers reached Elbrus top and, having dumped German flags, has set up the Red flag. .