A rocket man’s tale

The German military during the Nazi times, Wehrmacht, used to call it Stalin’s organ (Stalinorgel). The Soviet Army called it Guards Mortar (гвардейские миномёты). These weapons would become popular under their nickname Katyusha (Russian diminutive for Catherine).

And yet, its inventor would be executed by Soviet dictator Josif Stalin’s secret police even before the war began. His name was Georgy Erikhovich Langemak (Russian: Георгий Эрихович Лангемак).

It was Langemak, a Russian of Swiss-German origin, who would invent the jet mortars. They were first used at the Orsha junction station on July 14, 1941, wreaking havoc and causing panic within the German units that had got there.

Orsha is a city in Belarus in the Vitebsk Region, on the fork of the Dnieper and Arshytsa rivers.

According to the Wehrmacht survivors of the attack, a real firestorm fell on the railway junction. The battery of jet mortars struck not with simple shells, but with munition filled with incendiary mixture. German soldiers and officers felt the explosions burnt the ground beneath their feet.

The Katyushas would become a mystery wrapped in an enigma for the Nazis. They never knew when or where these weapons would strike: the Katyusha units’ main mode of operation (a.k.a. MOD) was to move to combat positions in full secrecy, getting there only in cloudy weather or at night.

Not only that: to maintain this secrecy, every machine was mined. Whenever there was any danger of the Wehrmacht even seeing it, it had to be blown up.

This tragic rule caused the death of the first operational unit’s crew, including its commander.

A snitch’s claim to fame

What happened was this: an Andrei Grigorievich Kostikov wrote a letter to then Commissar (boss) of Soviet state security Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov, charging that Langemak, as well as his colleagues, Valentin Petrovich Glushko, Sergei Pavlovich Korolev and Ivan Terentievich Kleymyonov, have been involved in wrecking, willful sabotage and, perhaps, high treason, too.

All of these people would be sentenced as enemies of the people. Korolev and Glushko would survive, while Kleymyonov would be shot on Monday, Jan. 10, 1938, and Langemak one day later.

The snitch would replace Langemak as the head of the department creating the killing machines. By the time he got there, the Katyushas had their field tests behind them, and the only step was to start their mass production.

The snitch Kostikov would raise in the military ranks all the way to Major-General, and in the ranks of science he would become a corresponding member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences.

Kostikov would die in his bed, aged 61, with a record of at least a dozen deaths reliably attributable to his correspondence with the ever-changing Soviet state security bosses. His name would be linked to the inventions of others until former Soviet archives opened their gates to researches.

The twists

Langemak and Kleymyonov were nominated for highest government awards shortly before Kostikov reported them as wreckers and enemies of the people in 1937. They were arrested almost immediately after the snitch’s report reached the Commissar’s desk.

By the following January, they were both dead.

Their colleagues, Glushko and Korolev, were sent to the GULAG concentration camps. Sitting at special labs and workshops (a.k.a. шарка, see The Gulag Archipelago, or Архипелаг ГУЛАГ in Russian, by Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, for more details), they continued to work on their inventions.

Glushko would end up developing engines for Soviet missiles, while Korolev was the author of the huge ballistic missiles themselves. The vehicles that would deliver the first satellite (Sputnik, Спутник in Russian) into orbit in 1957, and the first human being into space (Yuri Alexeievich Gagarin) in 1961, were built by Korolev and ran on Glushko’s engines.

A rocket-building linguist

Langemak himself never thought of creating weapons. He was into linguistics big time: an expert in ancient Greek and Latin, he would also master the Japanese language.

Except, revolutionary times being what they were (and are), Langemak was drafted into what then used to be Red Army, sent to its technical school and, upon successful graduation, ordered to join the research institute that concerned itself with what would become rocketry.

He was sentenced to die based on one (ONE!) interrogation record and one (ONE!) report by a snitch.

Langemak’s papers and books have been removed from distribution, and scientists have learnt only now where their research could have been today had Langemak lived.

As one of them put it, trips to the Moon could have been a matter of travel bureau packages, and Jupiter could have been the main natural gas supplier to earthlings, by now.

Why this story now and here?

Simple: with all the cancel culture and woke drivel that is permeating our awareness these days, instead of real knowledge that is still available to us, we are quickly getting to where the former Soviet Union used to be.

Or do you think that people proudly snitching on their next-door neighbours because their grandparents visited for Christmas are any different from Major-General Andrei Grigorievich Kostikov causing the deaths of so many inventors, most of them more talented than he could ever dream of being?

If you do, you have wasted your time reading this.

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