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"Strong as rocks." How doctors from Norilsk rescued wounded defenders of Dikson

The Arctic port of Dikson is the only settlement beyond the Urals where there was a battle with Hitler troops

MOSCOW, June 29. /TASS/. Dikson, a port in the Arctic, is the only place east of the Urals, where the Soviet Army fought Hitler’s military. Almost 80 years ago the port’s defenders repelled attack of the enemy’s cruiser, which planned to disrupt navigation along the Northern Sea Route, which was vitally important for the country.

Here is a story about how the northern port was defended and how doctors from Norilsk worked in the severe military conditions.

A doctor from prison

Vladimir Rodionov, 37 years of age, already an experienced surgeon, got to the North in 1939. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison for espionage (a widely-spread accusation in those days). He was sent to a penitentiary camp north from Krasnoyarsk to construction of the Norilsk plant, which experienced a big shortage of specialists. The prisoner worked there as a doctor.

"One of the two small hospitals in the camp was transformed into a surgery unit, where I worked. We had 45-50 patients. Even the district hospital in Dudinka did not have a surgeon those days. Two weeks later, I had to work there as well, there I treated 10-12 patients. Once a week, I received patients. Neither of the hospitals had trained specialists for work at surgery units, and we had to train them as we worked," Rodionov wrote in a book.

"Medicine was top important for Norilsk, and Rodionov was an educated surgeon, he was high-skilled and was a good manager. Being still a prisoner, he managed a civil hospital. Workers at construction of the Norilsk plant were both prisoners and civillians - this is what life in the North was like those days," historian Larisa Stryuchkova said.

Doctors treated different patients: prisoners, local residents, sailors. Rodionov wrote about a surgery in a tent amid a severe roaring snow storm. "With only local anesthesia, we opened purulent paranephritis (inflammation of the parotid fat tissue - TASS)."

In late 1941, local officials spotted the talented surgeon. He became the Norilsk hospital’s Chief Doctor.


"About three in the morning on August 28, 1942, the plant’s director, General Alexander Panukov, woke me up by a call, and ordered to prepare by six o’clock everything I could need for surgery of people injured in a calamity. He did not quote the number of injured, saying they were many. I was recommended to have enough blood," Rodionov wrote later on.

The general did not go into details, and the medics decided some geologists or fishers must have got injured somewhere on Taimyr. A hydroplane took the doctors northbound.

An overcast day, rain, but anyway in five hours they get to Dikson. 30 minutes later they learn Germany’s Admiral Scheer heavy cruiser had attacked the port.

Rodionov, the historian stressed, was not only a brilliant surgeon, he was an outstanding manager as well. The task was fulfilled.

"He organized extremely well the work to rescue the wounded in Dikson," she added.

"My work as a surgeon constantly went along with work of an administrator and tutor," the doctor wrote.

Northern Sea Route’s center

Dikson, a young Arctic port at that time, was founded in 1915. It was home of the first Russian radio station in the Arctic. Before the war (WWII), it was a strategically important port, a military historian from Krasnoyarsk, Alexei Yeliseyenko, said. Dikson was a central port on the Northern Sea Route, used by vessel convoys.

The German navy planned the Wunderland mission to destroy the Russian navigation in the Kara Sea. The Admiral Scheer heavy cruiser and submarines were to carry out the task.

The Nazi learned that in August, 1942, the Soviet convoy of four icebreakers and 20 bulk ships would cross the Vilkitsky Strait, north of Taimyr.

But the cruiser failed to find the convoy in the sea, though ran into the Alexander Serebryakov ship, which carried constructers and polar explorers.

In an unfair fight, the cruiser smashed the Russian ship, but the old vessel’s crew managed to send a radio message about the Germans in the sea. Germany’s Capitan Wilhelm Meendsen-Bohlken ordered to attack and destroy Dikson.

"If the mission succeeded, the soviet navigation in the Kara Sea could have been terminated for at least a year. But the German navy’s success was blocked by people, about who we say they are stronger than rocks. Lieutenant Nikolai Kornyakov ordered two 152-mm guns be taken to Dikson’s berth. The vessels in the sea got ready for the fight: the Semen Dezhnev icebreaking ship, and the Revolutsioner trade cargo ship. Volunteers joined the military," the historian said.

On August 27, 1942, the Admiral Scheer attacked Dikson. The town and the ships in the sea were seriously damaged, but the port’s defenders fought desperately.

The Nazi could not locate the guns on the berth, the attack failed, and the cruiser had to retreat and refuse from sending the military ashore. Fires were put down, the port and damaged ships were restored within days.

"Nowadays we can hear the opinion that the Scheer’s attack was an adventure bound to fail. But if we think about the biggest fights during World War II, we can see many examples of how a reserve division or a battalion, or just a platoon, or a few tanks stopped the enemy’s troops for hours or even days. It is impossible to imagine what could have happened if the Nazi entered Dikson, as the port was the gates to the developing Norilsk mining and metallurgical district, extremely important for the Soviet industry," the historian said.

Rays of headlights

Most casualties in the defense of Dikson were onboard the Dezhnev, he continued. The crew’s seven members were killed and 21 wounded. The medics began to treat the wounded immediately, Larisa Stryuchkova said.

Rodionov and his assistant made surgery in rays from headlights. They continued operations for two days.

About ten days later, they headed back, by water this time, as they were to take some of the patients for additional treatment or other surgeries, Rodionov said. The Semen Dezhnev took them to Dudinka, and then they took a train to Norilsk. The patients were treated at a hospital there.

Historians say it was an important experience for the Norilsk medicine, which during the war was cut away from the mainland. In fact, this is how the Norilsk medicine began.

Names of Dikson’s seven defenders are given to islands in the Arctic Ocean.

"All the local doctors worked in severe conditions and established the local healthcare system. During the war, Norilsk practically did not receive any supplies, and doctors in such extreme conditions had to take decisions. Doctor Viktor Kuznetsov was the first to use deer veins instead of special threads," Larisa Stryuchkova said.

After the war

In January 1943, Rodionov left the prison before end of the term, though without the right to leave Norilsk. In another four years, he was fully restored in rights. His job experience in the North was 15 years.

To 1954, he was Chief Surgeon and Chief Doctor, made more than 10,000 surgeries, including in gynecology, urology, and others.

"I was involved in establishment of the healthcare system in Norilsk from the very beginning, and after I was released, that very year, my family came to me - my wife and two sons," the doctor wrote in a book. His wife, Klavdiya, was the first director of the local history museum.

In 1954, after a stroke he had to leave for the mainland. Vladimir Rodionov passed away in 1969.

"That team of doctors, including Rodionov, are authors of the phenomenon, called the Norilsk healthcare system - till now we can feel the strong foundation, laid by those people," Larisa Stryuchkova said in conclusion.