Feature article “Fighters”

by Svetlana Bokova about a project funded by the Norwegian Barents Secretariat and the Norwegian Film Fund

It is so easy today to perceive Barents region as a common area of various interests. There are common projects in politics, economy, culture and sport. Can it be that cooperation seems so logical because some generally comprehensible system of axes of life in the far north were established long before legal implementation of the Barents region?

fighters-1-newsletter.jpgIn the beginning of winter 2010 three production companies: TV production company “Rec.A” (Murmansk), “Pomor-film” (Tromso) and “Tundrafilm” (Tromso) started a big documentary – “Fighters”. Its story takes us back to the time of the Second World War. After occupation of Norway over a hundred of ordinary fishermen from northern Finnmark together with their families fled to the Soviet Union. Many of them became soldiers in Soviet reconnaissance and sabotage groups. They would be called “Finnmark partisans” in documentation later on.

After combat training organized in a special camp not far from Murmansk, they would be sent to Norwegian cost in small groups of 3-5 people each. Mostly often it happened during polar night in winter when disembarkation of the scouts from submarines could be unnoticed. Intelligence was the main task of the partisans: military installations in towns, defense works, ship traffic in the sea. Each infiltration lasted anywhere from three months to half a year. If there were Norwegians in the groups they were as a rule able to make contacts with relatives, friends, people they could trust with their mission. In case of Russian-only groups, they would live unnoticeable in dugouts at the sea side or in the mountains and didn’t make any contacts with local population.

These were exactly the conditions for recon element “X-13” in winter 1944. Three soldiers: Sailor, Brave and Professor - a paratroop drop in Vadso. Part of the cargo was lost at landing but the rest of the supplies were enough to last until spring. The mission was supposed to take 3 months. Scouts started a round-the-clock observation of German ship traffic. Supplies ended in the end of April. Group’s radio operator sent a message to the headquarters of the Northern fleet: “Without food since April 26. Forgot about stale bread. Keeping our spirits high”. Up until mid-May their daily food ration was one chocolate bar for the three of them. They couldn’t shoot birds and animals without attracting attention.
Hunger was painful – they suffered from scorbute and furuncle. Supply plane arrived only on May 10. The group changed its dislocation every 40-60 days. And they hoped each time to be soon taken back to the base.

But their story ended only in October, after liberation of northern Finnmark. Their names were revealed: “Sailor” - petty officer I class Vladimir Lyande, “Brave” – Red Navy man Anatoly Ignatiev, “Professor” – cypher operator Michail Kostin. During 9 months of the mission on German territory Laynde’s group has discovered 77 convoys. 28 German vessels were shipwrecked and 12 vessels were damaged thanks to the group’s reports. Besides that they had sent 15 radio messages about German defense works at south-east coats of Varanger peninsula.

Joint Russian-Norwegian groups were able to work closer to populated localities and could use the information from local volunteers. However they were more often under a threat from Gestapo.

fighters-2-newsletter.jpgFor example, during a reprisal raid in Kirkeness Gestapo caught scout Osvald Harjo. It was a Norwegian policeman Hans Harold Rugg who saved him from execution. Together with Rugg the fled to Murmansk and… found themselves under interrogation from NKVD. Osvald Harjo was declared a German spy. And Rugg was accused of aiding the enemy of the people. Hans Rugg died in a Soviet camp before the sentence was delivered. And Harjo Osvald managed to return to Norway only in 1957.

Historians argue about the input of reconnaissance groups to the victory. Were those sacrifices necessary during the war? It’s easy to speculate today. They may seem not that important, but back then everything including the precision of air-strikes, safety of ally convoys and success of the whole Petsamo-Kirkenes offensive was put together from hundreds and thousands of these small local messages.

Besides that the story about scouts doesn’t end with the liberation of Finnmark. This story has a continuation. A huge, unfair, not justified by the time continuation that lasted longer than the Second World War.

In the Soviet Union where a man was just a cog in a big state machine they almost forgot about the heroic deeds of the scouts. It was a secret at first, it is now an insignificant episode. Norwegian fighters whose loyalty was put under question after returning from their missions were repressed and sent to concentration camps. Those who managed to return to Norway were named “Soviet spies” and put under observance from local special services during the Cold War. Their volunteers found themselves in the same situation. Norway had put an end to this in 1992, when they had established the monument to Finnmark partisans in Kiberg. By this act the country acknowledged their soldiers. But the story is yet not over in Russia.

Russian-Norwegian documentary “Fighters” appeals for restoration of historic and human truth. The first part of the project was funded by the Norwegian Barents Secretariat and the Norwegian Film Fund. Researchers from two countries were involved to work on the script. At the moment we are analyzing documentation from museums and archives of Russia and Norway, searching for descendants of partisans and collecting information fact by fact, bit by bit. And there’s nothing to be surprised about, because already the fourth generation is born in the families of those partisans who were only 20-25 year old during the war!

Script writing will be over in spring 2011. Filming should start in summer.


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