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War Hero Leonid Golikov
A Statute of a Boy Soldier in a Park in Russia
While strolling through the park located behind the Regional Administration building in Veliky Novgorod, Russia on a sunny August afternoon with my wife we came upon a granite statute of a young soldier.
I ask my wife, who is Russian, to translate the inscription on the monument. She studies the inscription for a moment:
And then responds:
of the Soviet Union
This was interesting but didn’t mean much until, after thinking for a few more moments she said that she remembered studying about him in school.
He was a young boy who had been a partisan fighter and had performed many heroic deeds during the Great Patriotic War (World War II) before being killed in battle.
This was interesting and, after taking some pictures I made a note to research him once I returned home.
Unfortunately there was practically nothing about this young partisan named Leonid Golikov in English which forced me to do all my research in Russian – a feat made possible by the use of Google’s translate tool.
Birth of a Future Hero
The village of Luchino is situated along the bank of the Lovat River in the delta formed by the Lovat, Pola and Polist riversas they flow into the southwestern corner of Lake Ilmen lies. The village lies southeast of the city of Veliky Novgorod and is in the Parfino District of the Novgorod Oblast.
It was in this village on June 17, 1926 that a son was born Alexander and EkaterinaAlekseevna Golikov. The boy was named Leonoid Aleksandrovich Golikov (referred to as Leonya). Leonya was the youngest of three children and the family’s first son.
Leonya’s father and Uncle Sasha were away half the year working as rafters ferrying logs up and down the river and across Lake Ilmen to saw mills in Veliky Novgorod and other towns along the river.
Leonya and his two sisters stayed home helping their mother manage their small farm. He started by carrying water from the well to the house and barn. As he became older he began taking care of the family’s cow and sheep as well as learning to fix fences as well as how to fix his boots.
Following His Father's Accident Young Leonya was Forced to Quit School and Become the Family Breadwinner
While small in stature, Leonya was strong and had great dexterity. When chores were finished he was free to join his friends swimming in the river, climbing trees and hiking in the vast forests that cover this part of northwestern Russia. Rare was the neighboring boy, older or younger, who could match Leonya’s strength, endurance or dexterity.
During the winter the children attended school across the river. Like other children in the Soviet Union, he was also a member of the Communist youth organization, the Young Pioneers, and proudly wore their distinctive red scarf.
Leonya’s happy childhood came to an end when, in late autumn before the river froze, his father fell off the raft he was working on and into the already frigid water.
His shipmates pulled him out of the water and managed to get him home. However, the icy water and cold trip home took its toll and he became very ill. It was months before he was able to leave his bed, and his illness left him in poor health and too weak to continue working.
At age thirteen or fourteen, following his fifth year of secondary school (this would be the equivalent of seventh grade in an American school), the young Leonid Golikov dropped out of school and went to work to replace his father as the family breadwinner. He found a job as a laborer in a plywood factory in Parfiny a village about 25 km east of the town of Staraya Russa.
Germany Invades the Soviet Union
A year later, on June 22, 1941, five days after Leonid Golikov’s fifteenth birthday, the Germany invaded Russia and The Great Patriotic War for the Soviet Union began.
It is not clear whether, at the time of the invasion, Leonid was still in Parfiny or if he had returned to the family home in Luchino. It really didn’t matter as Hitler’s forces quickly overran the area and by autumn occupied the entire area except for the city of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).
Wherever young Leonid was living at the time, the home where he lived and others in the village were used to house occupying Nazi soldiers. Whether the villagers were evicted or simply forced to open their homes and provide food and shelter to the troops is also not clear.
As for Leonya, he appears to have spent the winter of 1941 in the village. In March 1942 he left where he was living and went to join The 67th Partisan Detachment of the newly formed Fourth Leningrad Partisan Brigade which was conducting guerrilla operations against the Germans in the rural areas surrounding Veliky Novgorod.
Soon after joining the partisan unit, the now fifteen year-old Leonid joined the Communist Youth League (also known as the Komsomol).
This was a natural progression from the Young Pioneers of which he had been a member as a child. Now, as a teenager (with 14 being the minimum age for Komsomol membership) he was eligible to join this group.
While these partisan fighters were not part of the regular Soviet Armed Forces, they were also not completely outside of the Moscow directed military chain of command.
Regular Soviet forces faced the German troops along the roughly north-south line that formed the so called Eastern Front which separated the German occupied western portion of the Soviet Union from Moscow and the eastern portion of the Soviet Union that was still free of German control.
Regular Soviet troops also fought in a ring around Leningrad in Northwest Russia that remained free of German control while enduring an 872 day siege (from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944).
As a new recruit, and a very young one at that, Leonid was initially given duties as a scout. Being familiar with the area and the woods it was only natural that he was assigned to scout out enemy positions.
By April, a month after he joined the group, Leonid Golikov was accompanying his comrades on combat missions.
Attack on German Garrison in Village of Aprosovo
One day in April 1942 a woman from Aprosovo, a nearby village, came to the camp in the forest where Golikov’s unit was camped and informed them that a German unit had moved into the village. As to the type of unit or the amount and type of firepower it had, the woman did not know and was too scared to snoop around for more information.
Golikov volunteered to reconnoiter the village to determine the threat posed by the German unit and, more importantly, determine if this was a target that his unit should attack. Despite his only having been with the unit for a few weeks, he had already proven himself to be an excellent scout.
Removing his boots, dressing in some shabby clothes and rubbing some dirt on his face, the barefoot Golikov made his way to the village. From all appearances he was just another young teenager who had been orphaned and abandoned as a result of the war and was struggling to survive. Since there were hundreds of children in the same situation, nobody paid any attention to him.
With villagers and soldiers alike busy with their own work, no one paid attention to the shabby young refugee as he made his way around the village. He spotted the small artillery weapon the old lady had referred to and noted its type.
Passing by a barn he spotted a car, loaded with ammunition, parked next to it as well as evidence that the barn itself was being used to store more ammunition. Noticing some German Army cars and motorcycles parked next to the school, he concluded that this was where the unit had made its headquarters.
Having previously proved himself a good scout and marksman as well as quickly becoming an explosives expert, he now proved to be a good spy as well.
Returning to camp that same day, Leonya reported to his commander what he had seen. A decision was made to attack that night and Leonya was a part of the attacking party.
Reaching the village after dark, the group divided into two parts with one part moving to destroy the weapons and ammunition in the barn while the other, which included Golikov, moved toward the school.
Awaken by the noise from the attack on the barn, some of the soldiers inside the school rushed out and were met by a hail of gunfire from the partisans who were surrounding the school.
Three German soldiers remained inside the school and began firing through the windows. Being occupied shooting at the Russians outside the school, the three didn’t see or hear as Golikov quietly enter through one of the open doors.
He quickly shot two of them as the third spun quickly around and got off a shot at Golikov before diving for cover. Leonya also dove for cover as the bullet whizzed safely past.
Like a hunter in a forest laying perfectly still waiting for his prey to come into view, Golikov waited motionless in the dark.
Hearing nothing from inside, the German soldier started to return to the window and the Russians outside when Golikov made his move and shot him.
Quickly grabbing all the papers and files in sight, Golikov made for the door and joined his comrades as they retreated into the woods before the remaining German soldiers could organize a counter attack.
Returning to the camp, the other fighters teased the young warrior about his armful of paper trophies and jokingly referred to him as their clerk.
However, it wasn’t trophies that Leonya was carrying but information about German plans, capabilities and descriptions of the problems they were encountering. Information that was useful to the partisans and Russian troops in planning their next moves against the invaders.
Leonid Continues to Shine as a Soldier
Leonid was kept busy fighting during the summer and fall of 1942.
In an attack by his unit on the garrison in the German occupied village of Sosnica (there appear to be 4 villages with the name Sosnica in Northwestern Russia all of which are located within the area in which Golikov fought) Leonid Golikov was credited with shooting 14 German soldiers.
Leonid also assisted in the blowing up of two railroad bridges and twelve highway bridges as well as nine German trucks carrying ammunition. He also destroyed some German warehouses containing food supplies for the army.
Overall, during his short military career Leonid Golikov is credited with killing 78 German soldiers in combat.
Leonid Golikov Attacks a Car Carrying a German General
Leonid Golikov’s most famous achievement occurred on August 12, 1942 when he ambushed a car carrying a German Army General on the Pskov-Luga highway near the village of Varnita (which still exists but is so small that it no longer appears on maps) that lies between Pskov and Luga.
Traveling in the car was Generalleutnant Richard Wirtz (Lieutenant-General Richard Wirtz) who was returning from a meeting in Kosignberg and heading back to his unit.
Most accounts state that the attack occurred along the Pskov – Luga highway just past the village of Varnita. This highway was known during the Soviet era as the Kiev Highway as it is almost a straight route from St. Petersburg in northwest Russia to Kiev in present day Ukraine.
Today the highway is designated as the Russian highway M-20 and as Europe Highway E95. One can follow highway E95 from St. Petersburg to Kiev.
Leonid and five others, including Alexander (Sasha)Yakovlevich Petrov and Vasily Ivanovich Gladkov, appear to have been sent to scout the area where they encountered General Wirtz for possible future operations against the German Army. Given that the area had been pacified, it is not unusual that General Wirtz would be traveling unaccompanied.
While August 12, 1942 is generally given as the date of the attack on General Wirtz, the actual attack seems to have occurred shortly after dawn on the morning of August 13th.
Golikov, Petrov, Gladkov and the other three hid themselves in the trees and brush along the side of the road on the east side of a small bridge and waited to see if a target presented itself.
Map Showing Approximate Location of Attack on General Wirtz's Car along Pskov - Luga Section of Kiev Highway
In the early morning light they saw a small passenger car approaching rapidly from the direction of Paskov in the west.
The car slowed down as it approached and crossed the bridge.
Vasily Gladkov hurled an anti-tank grenade at the car but missed. Sasha Petrov threw a second grenade which hit the car but didn’t destroy it as the car continued forward for about another 20 meters before stopping almost in front of where the partisans had fired from.
As soon as the crippled car stopped, General Weitz and the officer who was driving immediately jumped out of the car and began shooting their weapons whereupon four of the partisans panicked and ran leaving Leonid and Sasha (who was in command) to deal with the two Germans.
Golikov shot at General Wirtz with his Soviet Army PPSh-41 machine gun bringing him down with wounds in the back and neck.
The other officer made it across the street and headed toward the woods while still shouting and exchanging fire with Sasha Petrov before he was hit and killed by one of Petrov’s bullets.
Leyona and Sasha then ran over to the wounded General Wirtz and yanked away the case (some accounts describe it as a red leather case) of documents that General Wirtz was clutching.
The two then returned to the car where they pulled out a heavy suitcase and three guns before hearing the alarms that were sounding in the nearby village. Quickly hiding the suitcase in the brush, the two ran off to join their comrades before German troops arrived at the scene.
That evening Golikov and Petrov returned to the scene. General Wirtz and his dead driver had been removed and the car had been towed away, but the suitcase remained hidden in the brush.
Upon opening the suitcase all they found were General Wirtz's clothing and personal items along with some women's sweaters (maybe General Wirtz had a Russian mistress at his headquarters).
However, the case of documents taken from General Wirtz that morning were of great value and among other important intelligence information, were drawings and information about a new type of land mines the Germans had developed and were preparing to deploy.
Russian Soldier Demonstrating Soviet Army PPSh-41 machine gun Like the One Golikov Used in the Attack on General Wirtz
General Wirtz Survives the Attack and the War
As for General Richard von Wirtz, his wounds were not serious and he remained on the Russian front for most of the war.
Following his good fortune in having survived the attack by Golikov and his fellow partisans in August 1942, Wirtz managed to survive the battles that followed as the Soviet Army began a counter attack that ultimately defeated the German armies on the Eastern Front.
In March of 1944, General Wirtz found himself commanding the 96th Infantry Division of the 1st Panzer Army under General Hans-Valentin Hube . Fighting in southwestern Russia, this army of close to 200,000 men soon found themselves nearly encircled by the Soviet Army in what became known as the Battle of Kamenets-Podolsky Pocket or Hube’s Pocket.
Soviet Army General Zhukov, in an attempt to remove Hube’s forces from the war quickly, gave Hube an ultimatum – either surrender immediately or Zhukov would take no prisoners and fight until all of Hube’s forces were killed in the battle.
General Hube, in a brilliant and daring move that is still studied in military academies around the world today, proceeded to outmaneuver General Zhukov’s forces and escape with minimal losses through the one hole still open in Zhukov’s line.
With his guardian angles still protecting him, General Wirtz and his division found themselves involved in fighting that was gradually moving westward ahead of the advancing Soviet forces rather than being assigned to try to hold the advancing Soviet Army and being killed or captured in the fighting which was the fate of many Germans on the crumbling Eastern Front.
By the end of the war, General Wirtz and his men found themselves in Austria where they surrendered to the American Army in the Spring of 1945.
General Wirtz was soon released with other German POWs and spent the remainder of his life as a civilian until dying at home of natural causes in 1963.
Leonid Golikov’s Luck Runs Out
Unlike General Weitz, Leonya Golikov’s luck ran out within six months of his capturing the documents carried by General Wirtz and he did not live to see his seventeenth birthday let alone the end of the war.
In Northwest Russia the German hold gained strength and by late 1942 and early 1943 they were becoming increasingly effective in combating partisans.
Late January 1943 found Golikov and his unit being pursued by German punisher units. These were units whose job was to go after and kill or capture partisans (those captured were generally executed by public hanging which was intended to discourage others from joining or adding the partisans).
On January 24th the group, the ranks of which had now dwindled to about 40 people, stopped in a village in the Acute Luke Dedovichi district of the Pskov region and took time to bury a nurse by the name of Tonya Bogdanov (Тоню Богданову) who had been killed while helping them.
Despite their attempts to keep a low profile their presence was betrayed by the village Chief who sent his son to notify Germans in the area.
In a surprise night attack a Lithuanian unit allied with the Germans and comprising about 150 men descended upon the partisans hiding in the barn.
Having taken a wound early in the attack, Sasha Petrov tried to provide cover while Golikov and the others attempted to retreat to safety in the woods.
However, Leonid Golikov and most of the others were cut down by gun fire as they scattered.
A few members of the Fourth Leningrad Partisan Brigade, including Captain Mikhailov, the NKVD(Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del – the Soviet Secret Police under Josef Stalin) chief, did manage to escape and tell the story of the massacre of their comrades.
Those who were not killed in the firefight and didn’t make it to the woods were captured, tortured and executed. The young female partisans in the unit who were captured were locked in a house that was then set afire.
Following the liberation of the area by the Soviet Army in 1944, the village chief who had betrayed the partisans was tried and shot by a military tribunal and his son who had carried the message to the Lithuanian unit was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Leonid Golikov was Buried in a Mass Grave and Later Recognized as a Hero
The sixteen year old Leonid Golikov was buried in a mass grave with his fellow fighters in the 4th Leningrad Partisan Brigade who died with him that cold January night.
In addition other military honors, Leonid Golikov was posthumously awarded the gold star medal recognizing him as a Hero of the Soviet Union on April 2, 1944. In Moscow his statute has been erected along with statutes of others honored as Heroes of the Soviet Union. There is also a statue in his home area in Veliky Novgorod.
Following the Great Patriotic War (World War II), pictures and books about Leoyna Golikov were found school room throughout the former Soviet Union and today he is still remembered and honored as a true hero.
Lacking a Photo, His Sister Leni was Substituted for Him in Photos
One photograph of Leonid Golikov as partisan fighter has come down to us. It is probably the only photo of Golikov in existence and this one photo can be seen on numerous Russian websites (the copyright limits its use to Russian websites and publications).
This photo lay undiscovered for a number of years which led to his sister, Leni, posing in partisan garb, being used for the photos that decorated classrooms and books through the 1960s. Her look alike picture can still be found in many of the older books still in circulation.