OMSBON (Independent Motorized Brigade for Special Operations)
A new NKVD special operations force called OMSBON (Independent Motorized Brigade for Special Operations) was formed in October 1941. It was the only unit with the technicians and explosives needed to mine the city's most famous sites, including the Kremlin, the orchestra pit of the Bolshoi Theater, the Metropole and National hotels, the Cathedral of the Epiphany, the residence of the Soviet foreign minister, the Foreign Ministry building, and the dachas (country houses) of all Soviet leaders except Stalin, who was afraid that the explosives might be used against him.
OMSBON was charged with laying mine fields in the zone and later guided Soviet forces back though the mined areas as they pursued the Germans. During the major battle of October-November 1941, NKVD special forces mined 70 kilometers of highways and 19 bridges, planted 12,000 anti-tank and 8,000 anti-personnel mines, and set 160 large explosive charges in strategic positions. They also blew up sections of the Leningrad highway and a major bridge across the Moscow River to slow the German advance.
The Battle of Moscow was the NKVD's finest hour. Twenty-four omsbonovtsevi, as the detachments' members were called, received Hero of the Soviet Union medals, the USSR's highest military award for bravery, equivalent to the Congressional Medal of Honor. Stalin and Zhukov both acknowledged their role in saving the city. Thereafter, however, the NKVD and its OMSBON detachments would play second fiddle to the Red Army. From January 1942 on, the main emphasis was on forming special operations units and inserting them in the enemy's rear, where they carried out their own attacks or acted in conjunction with local partisan forces.
The NKVD conducted a wide range of intelligence and counterintelligence operations behind enemy lines, gathering order-of-battle data on German forces and trying to discern their locations, intentions, combat strengths, and morale. It also carried out assassinations of key Nazi officials, police officers, and Soviet collaborators and traitors in the occupied areas. Occasionally, OMSBON assisted the regular forces, even paving the way for some of the major Soviet counteroffensives of 1943-44, but its role was subordinate rather than independent of the military command.
The mere existence of the wartime NKVD special operations detachments remained classified during the Cold War. Many foreign communists, including Spaniards who fled to the USSR after Franco's victory, joined OMSBON and fought as Soviet partisans. All omsbonovtsevi took a secrecy oath. The first veterans to acknowledge their wartime activities did not do so until 1994, and then only in the Western press. Since then more information, most of it on the Internet, has trickled out.
There are no museums or monuments commemorating OMSBON. There is a small plaque, known only to a few insiders, on the north wall of Dynamo soccer stadium in central Moscow that marks the place where the first recruits, many of them athletes, assembled. An inscription reads: "Here, at the “Dynamo” Stadium, during the first days of the Great Patriotic War, volunteers formed the Independent Motorized Brigade for Special Operations. Along with Chekisti and Border Guards the Brigade comprised many outstanding athletes, as well as Spaniards, Bulgarians, Slovaks, and anti-fascists from other countries. The Brigade achieved glory in the Battle of Moscow and in military operations in the enemy’s rear. Glory to the heroes, defenders of the Fatherland!"
In May 1999, Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov presided over a small gathering of the few OMSBON veterans who were still alive. Ivanov’s father had commanded an OMSBON regiment that marched through Red Square on 7 November 1941.
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