By Boris Sokolov, translated by Vadim Birstein
(Originally published in Russian on the website AIRO-XXI, on November 27, 2016)
On pp. 131-132 of Serov’s memoir there is the following diary entry allegedly written by Serov: “In [the city of] Stalingrad, the situation was really serious. On the first day of [my] arrival by plane, in the evening, the Germans bombed Stalingrad for the first time. People were walking around with a scowl, cursing the Hitlerites, but there was no panic or riots. Harsh business.” There is a footnote 9 to this text written by [the editor] Aleksandr Khinstein: “As is clear from the documentary sources, Serov arrived in Stalingrad on August 18, 1942.”
Using documentary sources one needs to keep in mind the dates of Serov’s travel. The date August 18, 1942 looks plausible as the day of Serov’s arrival in Stalingrad, since on this day the German aviation first raided the center of Stalingrad.
Let’s note that in the same fragment of the text, entitled “Flight to Stalingrad”, there is an anachronism: “In a village [I] found the 4th TA [Tank Army] headquarters and an Army Commander, a former cavalry officer, Major General Kruchenin, who defended the bend of the Don River. (In footnote 11, A. Khinstein wrote: “Serov’s mistake. During this period, Major General V. Kryuchyonkin (1894-1976) commanded the 4th Tank Army”). “After entering [the headquarters] and greeting him, I said, “Well, have you fought enough?” Kruchenin became pale and silent. Only then I realized that I was in a NKVD uniform with four rhombuses [military insignia on the collar – V. B.]. He thought that I came to arrest him” (p. 133).
At that time (August 1942) Serov had the rank of State Security Commissar of the 3rd Rank and wore three rhombuses on his collar. He was promoted to State Security Commissar of the 2nd Rank (with four rhombuses on his collar) only on February 4, 1943. This text is presented as a diary entry, but, as one might suspect, it could have been created much later than the described events occurred.
Additionally, in a fragment of the diary entitled “A Minute Before Death”, Serov describes his stay in the area of Klukhorsky Mountain Pass [in the Caucasus Mountains]: “At about 11 p.m. [NKVD] General [Moisei] Sladkevich, who was in [the village of] Gvandra, called me and reported that the 121st Mountain Rifle Regiment of the 9th Mountain Rifle Division under the command of Colonel [Ivan] Arshava had arrived. (…) I went to my tent and, without undressing, laid down and fell asleep. It was about two o’clock in the morning. I slept no more than an hour. Suddenly I heard submachine gun fire. (…) I sent [my aide Vladimir] Tuzhlov to find out if the regiment had arrived, and [if it did,] to immediately move three companies up here.
After about 15 minutes, German submachine gunners began to descend from the mountains closer to us. (…) After a while, the regimental commander Colonel Arshava crawled over to me and introduced himself. He made a good impression [on me]. I ordered him to move forward with two companies to cover the flank of [Nikolai] Korobov’s regiment. He left to carry out my order (…)
Suddenly an officer from Arshava ran to me and reported: “The Colonel has been killed.” I found out the following. It turned out that a mine dropped in the vicinity of Arshava’s observation post, and Arshava was killed by shrapnel, while the Chief of Staff of the regiment was wounded. [Note 23 by A. Khinstein: “Major I. Arshava (Serov mistakenly calls him Colonel) was killed in action on August 18, 1942, and was posthumously awarded the Order of Lenin].” (The same date of death is repeated in Arshava’s short biography on p. 644 – B. S.) (…)
I went to the location where Col. Arshava was laying. A mine fragment hit the poor man’s head. It was a pity, a young officer lost his life in his first battle. I ordered that the Chief of Staff of the regiment be carried to the field hospital. I pitied them both” (pp. 139-141).
The notes by A. Khinstein on p. 132 and 141 create an impression that on the same day, August 18, 1942, Serov was in two places, in Stalingrad and hundreds of kilometers away at the Klukhorsky Mountain Pass in the Caucasus. Those readers of the book who do not believe in teleportation, may doubt the authenticity of the diary entries.
The whole story in the diary entry entitled “A Minute Before Death” is constructed in such a way that the death of I. Arshava happened on August 18, 1942, since further Serov writes: “When we beat the Germans down, it was the end of August and they became quiet. In the morning, I, together with [State Security Major Georgy] Dobrynin and Tuzhlov, rode to another mountain pass, the Marukhsky Pass, which was more peaceful in terms of the war” (p. 144).
But if one consults with the award file of I. I. Arshava on the [Russian] Internet site “The Deed of the People”, it reveals a discrepancy between the real circumstances of the last days of the life and death of I. I. Arshava, and those Serov reports.
The commander of the 121st Mountain Rifle Regiment Ivan Ivanovich Arshava, b. 1905, a Ukrainian, in 1926 joined the CPSU(b) [Communist party], and served in the Red Army from 1923. In view of this, Serov’s statement that Arshava was “a young officer” looks rather strange. After all, in fact, Arshava was the same age as Serov, and it is unlikely that at 37 years old in 1942 Serov considered himself a “young officer.”
Here is what was reported in the military presentation awarding Arshava the Order of Lenin: “Comrade Arshava with his regiment joined the battle on August 27, 1942, and due to his able leadership the enemy group of 250 submachine gunners, who broke through to the headquarters, was destroyed. Comrade Arshava personally killed two enemy submachine gunners with his pistol. On September 3, he prepared an offensive, organized it, and as a result, the enemy was defeated and driven back for 14 km. On the same day, [on September 3, 1942,] Comrade Arshava died a heroic death in the performance of his military duty.”
The date of Arshava’s brave act is given as August 27, 1942. The document was signed by the Commander of the 9th Mountain Rifle Division Colonel Evstigneev. On November 22, 1942, Commander of the 46th Army Lieutenant General [Konstantin] Leselidze and members of the Army Military Council [Valerian] Bakradze and [Vasily] Emelyanov approved the award. However, I. I. Arshava was awarded the Order of Lenin before that, on September 9, 1942 (order no. 8/n, dated September 9, 1942, troops of the Transcaucasian Front; the database of awards “Deeds of the People”).
Therefore, one needs to assume that the diary entries “A Minute before Death” was not written Serov but by another person who did not witness battle during which I. I. Arshava was really killed, and had an inaccurate picture of the events at the Klukhorsky Mountain Pass in August – September 1942.
The real author of the diary entry “A Minute Before Death”, most likely, used the book by Vladimir Gneushev and Andrei Poputko entitled The Marukhsky Glacier Mystery (Moscow: Sovietskaya Rossia, 1971 [in Russian]) as a source. In it, a battle with submachine gunners is described in the words of the former Battery Commissar of the 256th Artillery Regiment, Aleksandr Samuilovich Andghuladze: “A group of German submachine gunners infiltrated almost up to the headquarters of the division, and a fight was going on everywhere. At the headquarters of the division, they were met by the cadets of the Sukhumi Military School, in other places, units of the 815 Regiment.” Here A. Andghuladze’s memory betrayed him a little bit. There is no question that some other units were also involved in the destruction of a group of the German submachine gunners. But the 121st Mountain Rifle Regiment of the 9th Mountain Rifle Division and a detachment of alpinists played the main role in the destruction of the Nazis.
Andghuladze continued: “Our artillery units prevented the German attack from the front and thereby deprived the enemy submachine gunners of support. Because of the fierce battle, the enemy submachine gunners were killed and some were taken prisoner. (…) The old proverb says: ‘Friends are learned in trouble.’ Once again it was confirmed in the battle in question. When the German submachine gunners battery showered a hail of bullets, younger Sergeant Yakunin was mortally wounded. He fell on a hill. Bullets literally plowed the land around him. Ekizashvili […] got to him by jumping from one place to another, and tried to save him, but he was too seriously wounded. Kurmyshev […], also under fire, lifted the wounded intelligence man Abohadze on his shoulders, safely took him out of the dangerous place, and hid him in a cleft of the rocks. All our units fought heroically. In this battle, the commander of the 121st Mountain Rifle Regiment, Major Ivan Arshava was heroically killed. He was posthumously awarded the Order of Lenin. Andghuladze himself was awarded the Red Banner Order.”
It is necessary to note that A. S. Andghuladze never served with I. I. Arshava and did not witness his death, and that is why his story is not exactly correct. However, in the book by V. G. Gneushev and A. L. Poputko, the battle with the German gunners who broke through to the headquarters, during which I. I. Arshava supposedly died, is not dated. The date of August 18, 1942, as the time of Arshava’s death is, possibly, taken from the electronic United Database “Memorial” on Soviet servicemen killed during the Great Patriotic War [this database is not connected with the International “Memorial” Society – V. B.]. It is reported in the record of losses of senior and higher command at the Transcaucasian Front, dated November 1, 1942, that I. I. Arshava “was killed in action in the period between August 18 and September 10, 1942».
The database “Memorial” was placed on the Internet on November 10, 2006. For some unknown reason, the author of the text [in the Serov memoir] did not use the database of awards on the Internet website “The Deed of the People“, which started working in April 2010 and contains information about the real circumstances of Arshava’s death. It seems unlikely that Serov was familiar with the names of servicemen killed at the Transcaucasian Front. We can therefore assume that the fragment of Serov’s diary entitled “A Minute Before Death” was written by the author not earlier than November 2006, i.e., 16 years after the death of Serov. Apparently, the author of this text was familiar with the electronic United Database “Memorial”, but was not familiar with the Internet database “The Deed of the People”, which appeared on the Internet in April 2010.
Note from the Editor (V. B.). Unfortunately, the commentator of General Ivan Serov’s “diary” Aleksandr Khinstein did not publish the calendar of Serov’s business trips he refers to. Without this calendar the dates of described events in Stalingrad and the Caucasus make no sense.
It is known for sure that Serov was in Stalingrad in late August-September of 1941, not 1942 [Nikita Petrov. First KGB Chairman Ivan Serov. Moscow: Materik, 2005. Pp. 32-34 (in Russian)]. During that trip he organized the deportation of Russian Germans from the Saratov and Stalingrad regions, for which he received an award on September 22, 1941.
However, in 1941 Serov could not have met General Vasily Kryuchyonkin, — the scene described in the “diary.” General Kryuchyonkin commanded the 4th Tank Army from August 1 to October 14, 1942. Therefore, if Serov arrived in Stalingrad on August 18, 1942, as Khinstein claims, then Serov could have met Kryuchyonkin, but in this case he could not be in the Caucasus at the same time. Additionally, there is no independent information in the literature that Serov, in fact, was in Stalingrad in August-September 1942.
Very little is known about Serov’s participation in actions at the Transcaucasian Front in 1942. He came to that front as a member of the commission headed by Lavrenty Beria, NKVD Commissar. Beria arrived on August 22 (not on August 25, as stated in the “diary”) and left on September 17, but it is unknown how long Serov stayed there. [A. Yu. Bezugol’ny. “Comrade Beria and the Front Commander have ordered…” Participation of the NKVD Commissar and a GKO [Defense State Committee] L. P. Beria in defense guiding of the Caucasus in August-September 1942. Voenno-istoricheskii arkhiv [Military-Historical Archive]. No. 3 (2002): 68-96 (in Russian)]. Serov was awarded the Order of Lenin for this operation on December 13, 1942.
In early February 1943 Serov was in Stalingrad again, now organizing camps for POWs. Then he proceeded further to head a new operation in the Caucasus, now against the local population of Karachar people [K.-M. Akiev. Light and Shades of Partisan War. Moscow, 2003. Pp. 22-25 (in Russian)].
But if Serov was in Stalingrad on August 18, 1942, he could not be at the same time at the Marukhsky Pass in the Caucasus to witness Ivan Arasha’s death that, according to Khinstein, occurred on that same date. In other words, without Serov’s calendar it is not possible to sort out what and when really happened and conclude if the events were, in fact, written by Serov.