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The Soviet intelligence officer revealed Hitler’s plans and executed the traitors. Why did the KGB leaders dislike him?

The Soviet intelligence officer revealed Hitler's plans and executed the traitors. Why did the KGB leaders dislike him?
Frame: the film “Fights. Exception to the rule”

March 1938, Paris. Late in the evening, an inconspicuous man walks through the dark city streets to the apartment, where he has an appointment. His name is Georgy Agabekov, a former Soviet agent in Iran who quit his service and fled to France. But that would not be the biggest problem. Worst of all, the traitor released a book in which he revealed information about the work of Soviet intelligence in Iran. After that, relations between Iran and the USSR deteriorated, and many of the Soviet agents were arrested and executed.

But Agabekov had such a pseudonym – after a cynical demarche, he did not even think to hide and go to the bottom. That evening, he hurried to a meeting to negotiate a deal to smuggle diamonds, pearls and precious metals. The “crook” got to the right apartment and knocked – the door was not opened. Then he gently pushed it: it was not locked. But as soon as the visitor slipped into the apartment, a knife was stuck in his chest: the “meeting” was an operation to eliminate Agabekov, which was skillfully planned and carried out by a young Soviet spy-illegal, Alexander Korotkov …

Alexander Korotkov was born on November 22, 1909 in Moscow . The boy did not know his father, Mikhail, who worked as an employee of the branch of the Russian-Asian Bank in the Chinese city of Kuldzha – even before his birth, the couple separated and Alexandra’s pregnant mother moved to Russia with her daughter Nina.

Alexander’s elder brother, Pavel, was raised by his father’s sister, who also lived in Moscow. Despite the fact that the boys grew up in different families, they were very friendly from early childhood.

During the years of the revolution, the family found itself on the verge of poverty: so that her son did not die of hunger, the mother was forced to temporarily send Alexander to an orphanage. Soon the financial situation of the Korotkovs leveled off a little – Anna got a job as a secretary-typist and took her son.

The future intelligence officer was a diligent schoolboy, was fond of electrical engineering and dreamed of studying at Moscow State University . However, seeing how his mother was exhausted in an effort to feed his family, after school Korotkov went to work. He chose the profession of an electrician, enrolling as an apprentice to one of the foremen. Sport was an outlet for the future scout – Alexander played football with his older brother Pavel.

Elevator to exploration

But much more Korotkov’s football was attracted by tennis, which played a crucial role in his life. Attending the matches of the sports society “Dynamo” , he often served balls and was a sparring partner with the club’s regulars. One day the clever guy was spotted by the assistant to the deputy chairman of the United State Political Administration (OGPU) Veniamin Gerson.

Dynamo Stadium (Moscow)
Dynamo Stadium (Moscow)
Photo: Pastvu.com

The experienced Chekist, who at one time was the personal secretary of the founder of the Cheka Felix Dzerzhinsky , immediately saw the potential in the young man. Thanks to Gerson’s patronage, in the fall of 1928, Korotkov ended up in the Lubyanka, albeit as an electromechanical elevator operator.

But Gerson was not mistaken in Korotkov: a quick-witted and purposeful fitter Alexander did not work for long
In 1929, he got a job as a clerk in the Foreign Department (INO OGPU) and was engaged in the distribution of newspapers and classified correspondence among employees.

A year later, Alexander was promoted to assistant operative of the INO. To test the newcomer’s abilities, Korotkov was commissioned to analyze the activities of the German Society for the Promotion of Industrial Enterprises (GEFU), whose representative office was located in Moscow.

The building of the KGB of the USSR on Lubyanka
The building of the KGB of the USSR on Lubyanka
Photo: Nikolay Malyshev / TASS

In the shortest possible time, having studied the documents provided to him, Alexander concluded that the “Society” intended to help Soviet industrial enterprises was used by the Germans to introduce their spies into the territory of the USSR.

This did not become news for the Chekists – the assistant to the head of the Secret Operations Directorate of the OGPU Artur Artuzov came to the same conclusions back in 1927, after which the activities of GEFU were terminated
But the superiors were impressed by Alexander’s insight and analytical skills. After some time, Korotkov began to be trained for work abroad – as part of the Express group of scouts in Paris. First of all, Alexander took up the study of foreign languages: school knowledge for such a responsible business was clearly not enough.

“Long” in Paris

In France, where Korotkov was to become a volunteer at the Sorbonne for cover and at the same time study at the school of radio engineers, he was supposed to go under the guise of an Austrian with Czechoslovak roots. The intelligence officer learned the intricacies of the German language with the help of a native of Hamburg – a member of the Comintern.

He, among other things, introduced the student to profanity and focused his attention on the traditions and behaviors of his fellow countrymen. Later, Alexander learned German manners, for example, not to put a comb in the pocket of his jacket and fasten it with only one middle button.

And the French teacher brought gramophone records with recordings of songs to the class, thanks to which Alexander not only replenished his vocabulary, but also diligently honed his pronunciation. Maria Vilkovyskaya, an INO translator, also helped the scout to learn languages.

Korotkov and Vilkovyskaya were connected not only by business relations – soon after they met, an affair began, and later they got married. By the way, the marriage in which Korotkov had two daughters fell apart after the war. The scout’s new companion was Irina Basova , a former translator of the Soviet military administration in Berlin , who gave Alexander another daughter.

In 1933, the intelligence officer, who received the pseudonym “Long” because of his tall stature, arrived in Vienna for legalization.
There, Alexander acquired a passport in the name of Czechoslovak Karl Roshetsky and continued to practice German for three months. Arriving in Paris, he was placed at the disposal of the NKVD resident Alexander Orlov , who later became sadly famous for his flight to the United States.

On the instructions of the leadership, Korotkov successfully recruited one of the employees of the 2nd control bureau of the French General Staff. In addition, he kept in touch with informants from Switzerland and Germany, where he often traveled using other passports.

Under the “hood”

In rare moments of rest, Alexander attended sports events: in 1934 he attended a match of the Workers’ Olympics, where his brother Pavel played in the Moscow national team. He was strictly forbidden to see a relative.

The Korotkov family did not even suspect what Alexander was actually doing – in order to remain unrecognized, the scout did not shave on purpose for several days and bought a ticket to the very last row of one of the sectors of the stadium.

Korotkov’s work enthusiasm was more than enough, but in 1935, when he tried to get a photographer from the General Staff as an informant, Alexander failed – he came to the attention of the French counterintelligence
Korotkov immediately informed Orlov about a possible failure – after short negotiations with the Center, it was decided to return the intelligence officer to the USSR. However, a year later, Korotkov again went abroad.

This time his mission was much more dangerous: under the guise of Vladimir Korotkikh, an economist at the USSR trade mission, the intelligence officer and his wife were to work in Nazi Germany. The main task of Alexander was the extraction of schemes and drawings of German weapons and equipment.

“The body was stuffed into a suitcase”

After successfully completing the task assigned to him, Korotkov was again transferred to France. This time, in addition to working with informants, the scout entered the group that was engaged in the search and elimination of traitors and enemies of the USSR. One of the targets of the liquidators was Georgy Agabekov, a former employee of the NKVD and a resident of the INO OGPU in Iran (pseudonym “Crook”).

As a Soviet resident in Constantinople, in 1930 Agabekov fled to Belgium, then moved to France, where he published the book OGPU: The Russian Secret Terror, exposing the Iranian link of Soviet intelligence.

The traitor’s act led to the arrests and executions of Soviet agents in the Middle East and significantly complicated Soviet-Iranian relations. At the same time, Agabekov practically did not hide – in March 1938, Korotkov’s group managed to get on his trail and interest him in a business proposal.

He [Agabekov] was liquidated in Paris, lured into a safe house, where he was supposedly supposed to negotiate a secret export of diamonds, pearls and precious metals … There, a militant, a former officer of the Turkish army, and a young illegal Korotkov were already waiting for him at his apartment … The Turk killed Agabekov with a knife, after which the body was stuffed into a suitcase, which was thrown into the river. The corpse was never found

Theodor Gladkov. From the book “Elevator to Exploration. “King of illegal immigrants” Alexander Korotkov “

Another target of the liquidators was the colleague and secretary of the revolutionary Leon Trotsky, Rudolf Clement. In 1938, he was in France, where he headed the International Secretariat of Trotsky and prepared a report on the investigation into the murders of a number of Trotskyists.

Preparing the report, Clement came close to the NKVD officer Mark Zbrovsky, who had been introduced into Trotsky’s entourage, and thus signed his own death warrant. The headless body of Clement, who disappeared in early July 1938, was found on the banks of the Seine River – he was identified by the scars on his arms. Referring to these episodes in a letter to Beria , Korotkov emphasized that “he was doing the dirtiest, most unpleasant and dangerous work.”

“I didn’t sell myself”

For his labors in Germany and France, Korotkov was awarded the Order of the Red Star and promoted – he became deputy chief of the 1st foreign intelligence department. At the end of 1938, Korotkov returned to Moscow – there the intelligence officer learned that in March Veniamin Gerson had been arrested for participating in a counter-revolutionary terrorist organization.

Despite the fact that Alexander was not touched by the “Yezhov purges”, he was one step away from repression in early 1939. The new People’s Commissar of the USSR Lavrenty Beria at a meeting of foreign intelligence officers accused Korotkov of conspiring with the Gestapo and dismissed him from the authorities.

Lavrenty Beria
Lavrenty Beria
Photo: TASS

However, Alexander was not going to give up – he sent Beria a letter, where he described in detail the years of his service and asked to reconsider the decision to dismiss.

I believed that I was doing something useful for the Party, and therefore did not hesitate for a minute to expose myself to the risk of paying for it with hard labor or a gallows. And the fact that it would be so in case of failure, I have every reason to think. (…) I was not for sale, and I had no intentions, no desires, no reasons for this

Alexander Korotkov

The scout took a great risk – having caused the anger of the People’s Commissar, he could be in prison and receive a death sentence. But, fortunately for Korotkov, it turned out differently. After examining the message, the People’s Commissar invited Alexander to his reception – the intelligence officer had a difficult conversation for him, after which he received permission to return to work.

“Action against the USSR is a settled issue”

Before the start of the Great Patriotic War, Korotkov, who had previously been on business trips to Denmark and Norway, again found himself in Germany, where he officially received a post in the Soviet embassy. The most important stage in the work of the scout, who received the pseudonym “Stepanov”, was the restoration of communication with ten “sleeping” agents.

These agents included an adviser to the Reich Ministry of Economy, Arvid Harnack (“The Corsican”) and Air Force Intelligence Officer Harro Schulze-Boysen (“Petty Officer”)
Both informants became members of the Red Capella group, whose curator Korotkov was appointed, and knew the scout by the name of Alexander Erberg.

In particular, thanks to Schulze-Boysen, Korotkov learned and reported to the Center that the US Air Force Attaché working in Moscow was Hitler’s spy. At the end of March 1941, having received a message from Harnack, Korotkov hastened to contact Beria directly – in his note, the intelligence officer announced that Germany was actively preparing an attack on the Soviet Union.

The mentioned source [Harnack] recently stated that opposing the Soviet Union is a settled issue. As far as I know, through the line of military neighbors from one of their agents, information was received that almost letter for letter coincides with the data of the “Corsican” that the Germans are planning to act in May against the USSR and seize the territory west of the Leningrad-Odessa line … Hitler said that the Soviet Union may soon become too strong

From a note by Alexander Korotkov

However, the People’s Commissar ignored the alarming news that continued to arrive until June 19, 1941: the last message, once again ignored by the Soviet leadership, came from a valuable agent Korotkov – Gestapo employee Willie Lehmann (“Breitenbach”).

From the hands of Lehmann Korotkov also received a copy of the report of the head of the Main Directorate of Imperial Security, Reingard Heydrich, “On Soviet subversive activities against Germany.” Willie devoted the intelligence officer to the details of the secret reorganization of the fascist special services – on the basis of these data, Korotkov corrected and maximally secured the activities of his subordinates.

At home among strangers

On June 22, the day the war began, the building of the Soviet embassy in Berlin was blocked – all employees were strictly prohibited from entering the city. Korotkov managed to negotiate with the head of the security: for a monetary reward, he twice released a scout, allegedly to meet with his beloved.

The building of the USSR embassy in Berlin
The building of the USSR embassy in Berlin
Photo: Russian Embassy in Germany

Risking his life, Alexander managed to meet a girl-agent, through whom he gave Schulze-Boysen and Harnack a large sum of money, a radio transmitter and instructions for encryption for further work. Korotkov ended up in Moscow in July 1941 – he reached the USSR in transit through several countries. Alexander was awarded the rank of captain and appointed head of the 1st department of the 1st department of the NKVD.

Together with other security officers, he trained illegal intelligence officers to work behind enemy lines.

Thanks to his impeccable knowledge of the German language, Alexander easily passed himself off as a captured German. They sat him down with the captured German officers, and the scout, rubbing his confidence, carefully squeezed out important information from them. Together with the famous intelligence officer Pavel Sudoplatov, Korotkov managed to prevent an attempt on the life of two generals of the anti-Hitler organization “Union of German Officers”.

The scout also visited Yugoslavia, where he personally conveyed messages from Stalin to Marshal Josip Broz Tito

The year 1943 turned out to be eventful for Korotkov – at the beginning of the year, under the guise of a Soviet diplomatic courier, he had important business trips to Afghanistan. In Kabul, the scout took part in the defeat of a group of fascist agents who planned to carry out a coup d’etat and drag the country into a war against the Soviet Union.

In November, on the eve of negotiations between Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, Alexander left for Tehran . Having reliable information that the Nazis were preparing an attempt on the life of the leaders of the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition, Korotkov headed the task force and successfully coordinated the work of the security services of the meeting participants.

Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at a meeting in Tehran (Iran) on December 7, 1943
Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at a meeting in Tehran (Iran) on December 7, 1943
Photo: US Army / AP

While in Iran, Alexander managed to organize the departure of several agents through Bulgaria to Germany – two of them eventually made it to their destination. One of the informants got a job at the factory of the Me.262 jet fighter developer, aircraft designer Willie Messerschmitt. The second settled in the city of Peenemünde and managed to take a position at the enterprise of the creator of German missiles, Wernher von Braun.

Behind the field marshal

Two years later, Korotkov again had to head the security service – this time the German delegation, which arrived in the city of Karlshorst to sign the unconditional surrender of Germany. Before the trip, he received a formidable parting word from the Deputy People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the USSR Ivan Serov .

If its [delegation] head, Field Marshal Keitel, throws out a number or refuses to put his signature, you will answer with your head. During contacts with him, try to feel his moods and do not miss the important information that he may drop on your ears.

Ivan Serov – in parting words to Alexander Korotkov

Korotkov coped with the task – he was constantly next to the Chief of Staff of the High Command of the Wehrmacht Wilhelm Keitel. And at the moment when he put his signature under the act, Alexander was standing right behind him. The post-war years of service as an intelligence officer were also associated with Karlshort – to cover the illegal resident, he was listed as deputy adviser to the Soviet military administration of the city.

May 8, 1945. Karlshorst, Berlin. Marshal Georgy Zhukov signs the German Surrender Act. Colonel of the NKVD Alexander Korotkov stands behind Zhukov
May 8, 1945. 
Karlshorst, Berlin. 
Marshal Georgy Zhukov signs the German Surrender Act. 
Colonel of the NKVD Alexander Korotkov stands behind Zhukov

On the instructions of the Center, Alexander began to look for agents who supplied him with secret data before and during the war, in order, if possible, to restore all contacts.

He managed to find an informant who acted under the pseudonym “Friend” – at one time he worked as the military attaché of Germany in Shanghai . Alexander also contacted an agent who worked at the headquarters of Field Marshal Wilhelm List. But the members of the “Red Chapel” Schulze-Boysen and Harnak were not alive – they were arrested and hanged.

The same fate befell Lehmann: the sad news that the agent had been shot by the Gestapo, Alexander learned during a visit to the house of Willie’s widow, Margaret. Korotkov was also engaged in the search for two “Vlasovites” – Vasily Malyshkin and Georgy Zhilenkov, whose traces were lost after the end of the war.

Alexander managed to find out that both traitors were captured by the Americans and are in a camp near the city of Mannheim. Malyshkin and Zhilenkov were secretly exchanged for Hitler’s Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, who was in the hands of the USSR, sentenced to death and hanged in the courtyard of the Lefortovo prison.

“I could win over any interlocutor”

Korotkov returned to Moscow in 1946. Having become the head of the illegal foreign intelligence directorate, he personally prepared the famous intelligence officers William Fischer , known throughout the world as Rudolf Abel , and Konon Molodoy for the departure to the United States . In addition, Alexander oversaw the activities of the spouses-scouts Leontina and Morris Coen.

He himself often traveled to the countries where his charges worked, met with illegal immigrants and supported them as best he could with kind words and advice. In January 1956, Korotkov was awarded the rank of Major General of the KGB.

A year later, he was awaited by another promotion – in the rank of the authorized KGB of the USSR under the Ministry of State Security of the GDR, Alexander again departed for Karlhorst
By this time, he had become the absolute record holder among scouts in terms of the number of state awards: in Alexander’s piggy bank were the badge “Honorary Chekist”, six Orders of the Red Banner, the Order of the Patriotic War of the 1st degree, the Order of Lenin and two Orders of the Red Star.

May 8, 1945. Karlshorst, Berlin. Signing of the Act of surrender of Germany. Behind the back of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Colonel of the NKVD of the USSR Alexander Korotkov
May 8, 1945. 
Karlshorst, Berlin. 
Signing of the Act of surrender of Germany. 
Behind the back of Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Colonel of the NKVD of the USSR Alexander Korotkov

Soon Korotkov found out that when equipping his office, a listening device was installed in the chandelier – an important information was given to Alexander by the Soviet agent Heinz Felfe (“Kurt”) working in the counterintelligence bodies of West Germany.

It was decided to leave the “bug” – with the help of it the KGB officers periodically misinformed the German special services

During his work in Germany, Korotkov established contact with the Minister of State Security of the GDR Erich Milke and the head of the foreign intelligence service Markus Wolf.

Many of Korotkov’s subordinates were connected with him not only by business, but also by friendly relations – Alexander often invited scouts to visit, went fishing with them and went to the theater. He calmly accepted constructive criticism of the foreign intelligence service and listened to advice on improving its work. Korotkov had a unique ability to arouse the sympathy and trust of those with whom he had a chance to communicate.

I was deeply impressed by his [Korotkov’s] ease of communication, his manner of conducting a conversation, his humor to frankness. And, as it seemed to me, whenever he wanted to, he could win over any interlocutor

Soviet intelligence officer Galina Fedorova

“He was destined for too short a century”

However, despite his benevolent character and high professionalism, Korotkov had his ill-wishers – one of them turned out to be Alexander Shelepin, who replaced Serov as chairman of the KGB .

Before the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the intelligence officer expressed concern that new pro-fascist organizations would begin to emerge on the territory of the FRG. Shelepin strongly disagreed with this conclusion and threatened Korotkov with dismissal from the authorities.

The fate of the scout was to be decided on June 27, 1961 – at a meeting of the Central Committee of the CPSU

Korotkov did not sit idly by and with all the means at his disposal tried to convey his position to the country’s leadership. At the same time, he was aware that Shelepin’s position was much stronger, and was almost sure that he would achieve his goal. But unexpectedly, shortly before the conference, Korotkov learned that the majority of the members of the Central Committee intended to support him.

The KGB chairman also learned about this and, realizing that the situation was not in his favor, he decided not to make a prepared report. The victory over his opponent cost Korotkov a huge nervous load – trying to cope with the anxiety that gripped him, Alexander decided to relieve the tension while playing tennis and went to his hometown Dynamo stadium.

This match was destined to be the last in Alexander’s life – bending down again for the ball, he lost consciousness. Korotkov was urgently taken to the hospital, but the doctors could not save the scout. Korotkov, 51, died of aortic rupture. He was buried with military honors at the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow.

Sasha [Korotkov] is, first of all, a personality, and an outstanding personality … By and large, he is a true worker in intelligence, who left a noticeable mark on it. What a pity that he was destined for too short a century, which he passed without sparing himself

Soviet intelligence officer William Fischer (Rudolf Abel)

Article written by Anna Komissarova

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