The Day of the Knights of St. George on November 26, 1915 was the birthday of one of the most famous sabotage units of the First World War – the Detachment of Special Importance named after Ataman Punin. This name was given to the part after the death of its creator – Lieutenant of the 8th Finnish Rifle Regiment Leonid Punin.
The “positional impasse”, when the front line bristled with rows of continuous trenches with lines of barbed wire, forced the military of different countries to look for ways to solve the breakthrough of the enemy’s defenses. In the German army, they were infantry assault groups, and in the Russian army, they were the prototypes of modern special-purpose units, called “partisan detachments”.
As the historian of the special services writes Alexander Kolpakidi, the high command “believed that these sabotage groups would largely determine the course of combat operations, exhaust the enemy’s manpower with dashing actions – demonstrations, searches, damage to communication lines, undermining railways and raids.”
Partisan detachments were formed from hunters, that is, volunteers. Preference was given to the Cossacks and the Cavaliers of St. George. As a result, six detachments were formed on the Northern Front, 11 detachments on the Western Front, and 12 detachments on the Southwestern Front.
The detachment under the command of Leonid Punin stood out against the background of other dashing units. More than half of the partisans, including the commander, were Knights of St. George. Of the 296 soldiers and officers, 42 people knew Polish, 47 knew Latvian, 9 spoke Lithuanian, and 155 German. The Punin detachment was also a phenomenon in the fact that it became a military school for future white commanders. At its beginning served: Baron Roman Ungern-Sternberg, Stanislav and Jozef Bulak-Balakhovichi, Georgy (Jerzy) Dombrovsky, Illarion Stavsky and Nikolai Zuev.
The detachment was in the vanguard of the 12th Army of the Northern Front, occupying an advanced section of positions near Old Kemmern. The special forces conducted reconnaissance of German positions and mined languages, and also participated in the Mitava operation and the defense of Riga.
Thanks to Olga Khoroshilova, the memoirs of her grandfather Lev Punin (brother of the squadron commander), who described one of the operations on January 12, 1916, became known: We see how one was running and giving orders. I was waiting for our volley. Suddenly there was a rifle fire from the Germans. The machine gunner Tyshchenko lying in front of me turned over and fell on his face. I got down on one knee. Bullets whistled around. I got to the machine gunner and then only saw that his eyes rolled back and blood came out of his mouth. Our shots rang out on a German volley. It was clear how the Germans began to fall people. I had the thought that now the Germans would come out of the bushes and start hand-to-hand fighting. He took out his revolver. Kornet Balakhovich gave the order to withdraw. The people quickly jumped up and began to run back, abandoning both the machine gun and the dead man. I made some of them return go and pick up the body of the hussar. The machine gun was also picked up. “
Ataman Leonid Punin was mortally wounded in a battle on September 1, 1916 at the Anticiem manor, 48 kilometers west of Riga, and died on the same day. Buried in Pavlovsk near St. Petersburg. The unit formed by him operated until the end of 1917, and then the former special forces were drawn into the Civil War and managed to fight on the side of the Whites and Reds.