By Max Novikov for War History Online
Alexander Victorovich German was born in Petrograd (currently Saint-Petersburg) on 24th of May, 1915. After school, he chose car manufacturing college, but was conscripted on his 18, and decided to become a career officer. In 1937 he graduated Orel Armor College – the first one in USSR to teach tank officers – and started to serve in one of the tank regiments, got married and got a son. A normal life of an ordinary officer of that time.
Alexander was considered a bright young man, so he was sent to the Frunze Academy after the beginning of WWII. After graduation, being a major already, he was assigned to the North-Western military district as a part of recon department.
When Nazi Germany attacked USSR, Alexander German first became responsible for coordination of the partisans in the North-West of USSR, and later, in September 1941, he and a detachment of 150 soldiers went behind the enemy lines to try to wreak havoc in the communication and supply lines.
Now, when we’re done with the boring stuff, let the epic begin.
Major started creating a base. He acquired an assistance of the local hunters and found his headquarters in the midst of swampy forests, so nobody but infantry could even try to reach it. As the time passed, the base turned into a fortress with capital buildings, barracks, kitchen, hospital, and so on. Needless to say that most of the equipment was from the raided Nazi storages.
German was the first partisan to create fully-functional airfield near his base: equipped with AA guns, able to accept even the heaviest transport planes of the time. When the nearest fighter regiment tried to intercept partizan planes, German immediately stroke their fuel and ammo depots, razing them to the ground. As a result of this actions the whole regiment was out of service for a month, so their commander wisely decided that partisans aren’t really his problem. Supply planes were delicately ignored after that.
But that wasn’t enough for German. In one of their recon raids partisans have found the abandoned narrow-gauge railways with steam engine and couple of cargo carriages, that were used by peat (the stuff that swamps are full of) processing factory. The line led through the impassable forest almost to the front lines. The only problem was that the railway passed a regular station, and that station, being important for army supply chains, had proper Nazi garrison.
German turned to classic hit-and-run tactics: while steam engine was running full-speed through the occupied station in the middle of the night, his forces attacked the garrison barracks from the other side. Long story short: after several months garrison became smart enough to ignore little night activities on the narrow-gauge tracks. Everybody wants to sleep at night; everybody wants to get back home. After that, supplies for partisans were constant and plentiful, allowing them to strike more important targets (ignoring “educated” neighbours, though).
Unfortunately, soon the station garrison was replaced. While new commander – records state it was some Major by the name of Paulwitz – was hinted by his predecessor several times on non-importance of the night trains, he chose to ignore it, so the line was cut, and the next train was ambushed, with a destroyed crew and cargo captured.
The next morning, partisans captured the station (and kept it for several days), destroyed the garrison, all the supply depots raided. At the same time, German’s people demolished five bridges, including one of strategic importance. The whole army supply network didn’t function in the region for a long time.
Major Paulwitz was killed in action, though none of the partisans took responsibility for that. His replacement chose to ignore everything about the partisan railroad, and the things got back to normal.
By July 1942 Alexander German had about 2,500 able men in his brigade, terrorizing Nazi forces in the whole Pskov region. By that time, the higher command of the Axis started to notice partisans effectiveness in the troublesome region, so they’ve sent an SS detachment specializing in anti-guerrillas warfare from Smolensk to deal with the problem. Fortunately for partisans, their intelligence managed to warn the brigade about both incoming detachment and the methods of their leader, who relied on trained dogs to follow the tracks, getting the smell from the shoes of killed partisans.
At first, German ordered his troops to use different routes for going out and coming back, with special rear-guard to mine the way used immediately. That method cost Nazis a couple of squads, but Alexander needed more permanent solution than that.
At one of the sorties the captured Nazi collaborator, who was led to the base by the top secret swamp dike, managed to escape, using the same route without any trouble whatsoever. Two SS companies were immediately sent the same way. The dike didn’t have any mines, but as soon as the main body came to the middle point, the bombs attached to the supports on the entry points were detonated, leaving soldiers at the mercy of the bottomless bog. Nobody survived, there were no more attempts to find German’s base till the autumn of 1943.
Partisans’ headquarters continued to grow: with functioning airfield and railway station partisans didn’t need much help from the locals, even sharing extra supplies with them. German’s medics were helping to the sick, sometimes even paying them visits at home. German also created temporary government councils: mobile groups of Soviet officials, who periodically came to their districts to listen for people’s requests and make the decisions on civil matters. Nazi soldiers desperately ignored that activity.
Actually, that’s not right. They didn’t ignore it – they used it to their own benefits. There’s a record of the written request from one of the Nazi forager squads, stating that while they’re abiding all the written and unwritten rules of their trade, paying locals for the food taken and avoiding any abuse whatsoever, there’s a group from the other detachment acting in their territory. And so they humbly ask the respectable comrade Major not to put any responsibility for that group actions on their detachment. Thank you in advance, best regards, and so on.
The aforementioned station garrison went even further. With their replacement coming and them being ordered to march back home for recuperation… they humbly requested permission to use partisans’ railroad for the ride, as it was safer for them than any other way through the region.
There are no records on what became of those requests, but somehow this became known to the High Command, so, even suffering at the front lines already, the whole combat division (~4500 soldiers, with tanks, artillery, and air support) was ordered to deal with the German’s brigade.
With heavy combat on every step, the bulk of the partisans managed to break through to the advancing Red Army, destroying half of the Nazi division on their way. Alexander German, leading this escape, was killed on September 6, 1943.
Official documents state that his brigade managed to kill 9652 soldiers, crash 44 supply trains, demolished 31 railway bridges, destroyed 17 garrisons and about 70 administrations.
Alexander Victorovich German was posthumously awarded with the “Hero of the Soviet Union” star; there are several streets named after him in the North-West Russia, including one in his home Saint-Petersburg.