Military Review

Colonel Africa

Colonel Africa

November 1936 of the year, Strasbourg, routine inspection of documents for passengers of the Paris-Berlin express train. In the single compartment of a first-class carriage, a young border guard asks a spectacular lady to produce documents. Humming contemptuously, she handed him a Canadian passport.

In those years, the passport of a Canadian citizen was quoted in Europe very high, his owner's luggage, as a rule, was not inspected, and border guards at the sight of a black book with golden maple leaves were pulled into a crone.

The young frontier guard took a different view of the document - he carefully examined every page and instructively said:

- I have a wedding today, madam, so I am kind and ready to close my eyes to many things ... Don't show this passport to anyone else, otherwise you will have serious troubles. And ask for money back from those who sold you this fake. Toronto, where you were supposedly born, is located in the province of Ontario, and not in the province of Quebec!

The arrogance instantly fell from the face of the "canadian". Snatching a passport from the hands of a connoisseur of political geography, she rushed headlong out of the car. On the same day, in the same place in Strasbourg, the same spectacular person on the same passport again neglected the danger of being detained by the gendarmes and crossed the border by bus.


The risky passenger was the candidate for the recruitment of Africa de las Eras Gavilan. Fulfilling the instructions of General Feldbin, a resident of the NKVD in Spain, she carried a large amount of foreign currency cash to Berlin.

With an unusual name — Africa — the girl owes her father, romance, and a disgraced officer, who was sent to Morocco for her disagreement with the monarchical structure of Spain. As a token of gratitude to the African continent, who sheltered him with his family, he gave the unconventional name of his daughter, who was born there 26 on April 1909.

After graduating from the monastery school and college "Holy Heart of Jesus" in Spain, Africa did not return to Morocco. After a while, her father died, and she lost her livelihood, but somehow she suddenly got an offer and married a military man. Marriage saved from poverty, but revealed the ideological incompatibility of the spouses: he is a supporter of the reactionary general Franco, she is a man of left-wing views. Violent disputes and recriminations of political short-sightedness brought the collapse of the family closer, and when their son died, they broke up. “Our love boat crashed on the reefs of political intolerance,” Africa will say later. Again, the lack of money loomed in front of her, and she went to work at a weaving factory. There she became close to the Communists, and so closely that she threw up a sweat during the day, and at night she carried out their instructions.

In 1933, Africa joined the Communist Party and participated in the armed uprising of the Asturian miners. Her desperate courage struck male comrades-in-arms — she took on the most risky errands: then, under heavy fire, delivered to the rebels weapon and ammunition, then, at the risk of being caught up by government soldiers, acted as a liaison. A replica thrown to her after the suppression became a common joke among the rebels: “Africa, die agility, or you will finish off your guardian angel!” After the suppression of the uprising, the girl hid from the police and lived for more than a year in an illegal situation.

During the Spanish Civil War, Africa, fighting on the side of the Republicans, came to the attention of Feldbin and was recruited. After checking the girl on control orders and making sure that her personal and business skills meet the requirements for secret officers, the general recruited her under the pseudonym Patria (in Spanish, “Patria” means “Motherland”).

In April, 1938, and. the head of the foreign intelligence service Spiegelglass, following Stalin's intentions to physically eliminate Trotsky, decided to bring a liquidation agent to him. Since the “revolutionary in exile,” fearing an assassination, did not allow unfamiliar men into his home, they relied on his passion for young, spectacular women, substituting Patria to him. She managed to please Trotsky and was accepted into the house by the governess.

The bridgehead for the attempt was prepared, but the development did not follow Spiegelglass's patterns: on November 2 he was arrested on charges of treason. In order not to become another victim of the repressions unleashed by Yezhov against the KGB veterans, Feldbin, the operator of Patria, fled to the USA in November. For security reasons, they brought her out through an illegal channel in the USSR, and the operation to eliminate Trotsky was postponed. We returned to the topic (but without Patria) in May 1939, when the leading figures of the genre, state security generals Pavel Sudoplatov and Naum Eitingon, took up the case.


The first thing Africa did when it settled in Moscow was to sign up at Osoaviakhim (now DOSAAF). She took possession of all types of small arms, which was in service with the Red Army, and proudly wore the Voroshilovsky marksman badge.

When the Great Patriotic War began, Africa, eager to take revenge on the fascists for defeat in Spain, was eager to get to the front, but it was not taken due to its small stature and frail physique. For her, the head of the Bulgarian section of the Comintern, Georgi Dimitrov, put in a word, and she ended up in the medical platoon of the Separate motorized rifle brigade of the NKVD. And in May, 1942, after the end of the radio courses, Africa was enlisted in the special purpose reconnaissance and sabotage squad of the NKVD “Victors”, which was to operate beyond the front line in the occupied territory of Western Ukraine.

Here is what she herself told about it:

“The classes included multi-kilometer full-stroke marches, shooting and special training. There was no time to rest, and nobody even thought about rest.

After a while, I swore a radio operator oath. I solemnly swore that I would not surrender to the living enemy, and before I died, I would blow up the cipher and transmitter with a grenade, and then myself ... I was given two grenades, a pistol, a Finnish knife. From that moment on, I always carried all this equipment with me.

On the night of 16 June 1942, our group was parachuted near the Thick Forest station in Western Ukraine. There were nine radio operators in the detachment. We received telegrams from the 30 battle groups, and there was almost no time to sleep.

For communication with Moscow, three groups left the camp in different directions. 10 – 15 kilometers followed, accompanied by six submachine gunners — two for each radio operator. Work began all at the same time on different waves. One of us had a real program, and the other two were confusing, as we were constantly harassed by the German direction finders.

I mainly worked with Nikolai Kuznetsov, but then I knew him as Pavel Grachev. He called me "my radio operator". I learned the real name of the legend of our intelligence only many years later when I returned to Moscow from a regular illegal business trip. Yes, and the soldiers knew me as Marusya, Masha, Maria Pavlovna - the conspiracy was the most severe in the detachment, although, it seems to me, many guessed that I was Spanish.

Both winters in the partisan detachment, I suffered from the cold. Once, in the freezing cold of 30 degrees, I, in the presence of Kuznetsova, worked on the “key”, and from the cold, a shiver began to beat me. Then Nikolai Ivanovich took off his sweater and put it on me. So I worked, from head to toe dressed in Kuznetsovsky warmth. He also presented me with a cashmere shawl, black with pink flowers (where did he get it ?!), and I felt like a queen ... ”

For the performance of combat missions and active participation in the partisan movement, Africa was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, the Order of the Red Star, and the medals "For Courage" and "Partisan of the Patriotic War" 1 degree.


In the summer of 1944, when Africa returned to Moscow, the leadership of the NKVD offered her to work on a permanent basis in an illegal foreign intelligence unit, and she agreed without hesitation.

Since then, the novice scout interrupted any contact with fellow countrymen, comrades in the civil war. She will never see them again, will know nothing about the fate of her relatives. For them, Africa, too, will sink into oblivion. And abroad, it will act under the “alien flag” - with other people's personal data - leading, in essence, an anonymous existence. Nothing can be done - these are the ruthless laws of the world of illegal intelligence, and in order to survive in it, apart from mastering foreign languages, one must have a huge stock of specialized knowledge and skills.

For more than a year, Africa has comprehended the wisdom of the craft of illegal intelligence: recruitment methods; methods of transmitting information through caches; encryption case; I learned how to throw off the "tramplers" who were hanging on the "tail" - to escape from surveillance; how to instantly change the mode of transport on the route - transfer from a bus or subway to a taxi and vice versa; how to use luggage storage shops and stations, as well as libraries and cinema halls for the exchange of information obtained or documents, and for turnouts - hairdressing and beauty salons.

“The game in a foreign field” for Patria began in January 1946, when she was taken by car through half of Europe and was landed in Paris. There she quickly legalized, posing as a refugee from Spain, who crossed the Spanish-French border in 1945. However, in the year 1948, at the direction of the Center, she left Europe and, after doing an intercontinental journey, settled in Montevideo, becoming the owner of the French fashion salon.

Soon, due to the charm of the hostess, the salon became a popular place for parties of wives and mistresses of General Staff officers, officials of different levels, diplomats, businessmen, turning into a backwater, where the scout caught fish — he sought out potential candidates for recruitment.

Patria was awarded the Second Order of the Red Star and the second Medal "For Courage" for the results achieved in the work and the fearlessness and resourcefulness shown at the same time.

By the way, for some reason, veterans of foreign intelligence especially honor this medal, equating it with the Order of the Red Banner.


27 April 1906 was born in the town of Faenza in the province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region, born Giovanni Antonio Bertoni. After graduating from elementary school and technical school, he worked in the workshop of FIAT. In 1922, he joined the Italian Komsomol, the following year - the Italian Communist Party (IKP). He was repeatedly detained by the police for organizing anti-fascist rallies. In April, Bertoni 1925 liquidated two fascists in Faenza, who terrorized the locals, and went underground. The Ravenna court sentenced him in absentia to 26 years of hard labor. On the initiative of Togliatti, General Secretary of the IKP, a young man was transferred via illegal channels of the Comintern through Switzerland to the Soviet Union.

In 1925 – 1927, Giovanni worked as a mechanic in the port of Odessa, then he studied at the Communist University of National Minorities of the West, which he graduated from in 1931 year. In the same year he joined the VKP (b) as a member and began working as an instructor of the Central Committee of the OOI USSR. In 1936, Bertoni was enrolled in the Foreign Department staff of the General Directorate of State Security (GUGB) of the NKVD of the USSR, that is, he was a foreign intelligence officer with the operational pseudonym Marko.

In 1943, the INO leadership decided to send Marco to work abroad illegally. After a course of special training, he landed in Yugoslavia on a parachute 1944 of the year, and then moved to Northern Italy. At first, everything went perfectly: Marco easily legalized in Rome and, according to the plan, got a job in a government agency, which, from an intelligence point of view, was a real Klondike of secrets. Mined documents he hid in a cache under the seat of a motorcycle. One day, moving to a meeting with a liaison from Moscow, Marco got into a car accident and was taken to hospital in an unconscious state. The police discovered a cache, the intelligence officer was under the hood of the Italian counterintelligence and was forced to return to the USSR. After the next special training course, Marco received a new appointment: to head the residency in Uruguay, where Patria worked.

According to the plan of foreign intelligence, in the long term they were to become a husband and wife for the subsequent deep subsidence in Latin America. And that was not a cabinet improvisation, but a weighted decision, based on many years of practical experience.


At Lubyanka, the strength of foreign intelligence was considered to be married couples, which are distinguished from ordinary marriage alliances by the absolute psychological compatibility of husband and wife, their ideological firmness and faith in the victory of communism. Analysis of the work of reconnaissance pairs - Elizabeth and Vasily Zarubin, Mikhail and Elizabeth Mukasey, Zoya and Boris Rybkina and a number of others - confirmed the validity of such an opinion. At the same time, it was clear that reconnaissance tandems alone, no matter how efficiently they worked, were not enough to achieve the goals facing foreign intelligence. After all, in general, it is a strong fist that strikes at the most vulnerable parts of the enemy’s body, while the tandem has only two fingers. Therefore, they were not created on a massive scale, but solely by the piece and as needed.

In January, 1956, when it became necessary to strengthen operational positions in South America, foreign intelligence leaders decided that the matrimonial reconnaissance tandem was the best tool for successful work, and the most suitable candidates for the marriage union were the experienced illegals Patria and Marco.

The correctness of the choice was not in doubt: both scouts, who suffered from their convictions on historical Having become citizens of the USSR, they found a new homeland and sincerely loved it. Having traveled a long and thorny path in intelligence, both proved allegiance to communist ideals, took place as individuals and made a brilliant career - they rose to the rank of colonel stars. It would seem that the life of the scouts was a success. However, with all their ranks, regalia and material wealth, both had no family hearth and were burdened with loneliness. In addition, in April Patria turned 47 years old, and Marco - all 50.

According to the calculations of the authorities, these circumstances should have contributed to the implementation of the interdepartmental plan, coded as “Matrimony”. Stop! But the members of the intended marriage union are not personally unfamiliar - they do not even suspect the existence of each other. Nothing, a fixable matter, another thing is important now: to find out whether each of the candidates is morally ready for a marital relationship.

Started with Marco. They familiarized him in detail with the operational situation at the upcoming “battlefield” - in Uruguay. They stressed that he was going there to assist Patria, acting there. Showed her photo in different angles, without going into details, described the life and battle path, the features of her character. In conclusion, it was reported that in order to increase the efficiency of the Uruguayan residency, it would have been advisable to combine them into a matrimonial reconnaissance tandem. How does he feel about that?

Marco said simply: “I agree. After all, tango alone do not dance! "

The reaction of the scout justified the hopes of the authorities - he always put the interests of the matter first, for him the words: “Think about the Motherland before, and then about yourself” were not just a line from the song, but an installation that he made for the rest of his life once came to reconnaissance.

... Having taken one redoubt - having received the consent of Marco, - the authorities went to the attack of the fortress named Patria. And to find out her attitude to marriage, they launched a trial balloon.


In May 1956, Patria received a radiogram from Moscow, in which she was instructed to come to Genoa to meet with an “Italian colleague.” This is a usual thing - the final phrases of the dispatches were unusual: “We assume that your working relationship with your Italian colleague can be complemented by personal ones. Your opinion?"

"What is it? - Patria reflected, never taking her eyes off the text. “For the order, the form is too delicate ... And what if the Center gives me a covert blanche for a rapprochement with a man with whom I have to work side by side?”

The images of childhood came to mind, the major moroccan who constantly repeated the surah from the Quran: “Everything will be as it should be, even if it is different.” As a result, Patria did not bother to search for the truth, having decided that everything would soon become clear - either immediately after meeting with an “Italian colleague”, or during the course of work. She responded to the provocative message of the Center with an Argentine proverb: "Never invite a sitting woman to dance - she may be lame."

At Lubyanka, Patria’s evasive response was appreciated. Indeed, is it possible to guess how your relationship with the “Italian colleague” will develop, if you have never seen him? After all, it's OK to buy a cat in a bag!

But the most important thing for the “Lubyanka matchmakers” was in the other - Patria did not reject the rapprochement as such, which means that it will be possible to return to the subject when she becomes in person acquainted with the “Italian colleague”.

... The next day, Patria left for the United States and then to Italy, where a meeting was to take place with a man, whom she had scheduled a date with Moscow. Walking in Genoa, due to the vision of Veneto, strictly from south to north, the scout looked at the shop windows absently and mentally repeated the identification signs of the guest. At the same time, she did not forget to expose her: a book in a bright yellow cover and a white handbag on the left shoulder, from which a red kerchief protruded.


Having implemented the “Matrimony” plan, the foreign intelligence leadership noted with satisfaction that the effectiveness of the Uruguayan residency increased markedly with the formation of the Marco – Patria intelligence tandem.

Married in the Montevideo Cathedral, they became Marchetti's spouses. Got a reliable cover, having received a license to trade in antiques. In the elite district of the capital, they bought a house, the first floor of which was adapted as a store, and on the second floor they equipped a photo lab and a radio studio. Buying and selling antiques in the countries of South America, got there useful connections. They fulfilled a number of important tasks of the Center, including holding secret meetings with Salvador Allende, at that time Senator of Chilean Parliament, and with Ernesto (Che) Guevara on the eve of his departure on the Granma yacht as part of Fidel Castro's squad to seize power in Cuba. The first of the “snowdrops” - the Soviet illegal immigrants who worked in the Western Hemisphere - established two-way stable radio communication and uninterruptedly supplied Moscow with information.

A marriage alliance — not feigned, but real — two illegal immigrants who had been married at the Center’s will to accomplish the most important tasks proved to be not only capable, but also happy: for eight years the spirit of mutual love and respect reigned in it. Everything collapsed 1 September 1964 of the year following the sudden death of Colonel Bertoni.

Despite the grief that had befallen her, Africa for three years continued to do business with her husband in South America. Only in the fall of 1967, she left Uruguay, where, risking her freedom and life, she worked for almost 20 years. With the return to Moscow, her service in illegal intelligence has not ended. Three more times she traveled over the cordon to perform tasks that the Center could not entrust to anyone else.

In March, 1976, by decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR for special services to Africa, was presented the highest award of the Soviet Union - the Order of Lenin. A rare case in the practice of foreign intelligence is that out of almost three dozen women-intelligence officers declassified by the beginning of the 21st century: Africa and Zoya Voskresenskaya-Rybkina had this award.

In 1985, in connection with the 40 anniversary of Victory, Africa was awarded the Second Order of the Patriotic War. In the same year she retired as a colonel. It was her 76, actual intelligence experience consisted of 48, and her length of service was almost ... 70 years! The arithmetic is simple: according to the situation existing in foreign intelligence, the year of the intelligence officer’s stay in illegal work abroad is counted as length of service for two years, more than 50 years; plus two years in the “Winners” squadron, where a year went into long service for three, for a total of six years; the rest is work in the central office.

8 March 1988 was supposed to be another award - intelligence leaders were to give Africa the badge "Honorary State Security Officer". Five hours before their arrival, she died in her apartment.

Colonel Africa de Las Heras Gavilan, a professional virtuoso who, during her years of service, did not allow the slightest slip, avoided betrayal and repression, was doomed to public non-existence during 60 years. Her name was declassified only in 1997 year. The name, but by no means the operations in which she participated, and not all the countries where she performed the tasks of the Center, they will remain “Top Secret” for another 50 years. The measure of her work and talent was the assessment of colleagues and government awards.


The Soviet experience in the creation of matrimonial intelligence tandems was creatively developed and applied to the national specifics and on a massive scale the strategic ally of the KGB, the Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) of the German Democratic Republic in the person of its head, Army General Marcus Wolf. The son of a political émigré, he lived in 1932 – 1952 in Moscow, where he received a higher general civil and KGB education. In 1952, he was assigned to the staff of the power steering, which he later led 30 for years. All this time, General Wolf maintained a close relationship with the leadership of the KGB of the USSR, and even described his chairman, Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov, as a mentor and elder brother.

In 1960-s and until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, under the leadership of General Wolf, a strategic operation under the code name “Red Casanova” was successfully implemented. It provided for the involvement in the orbit of the GUR activities of female employees of state institutions of the Federal Republic of Germany (as a rule, they were secretaries of Balzac age with an unsettled personal life) who had access to information constituting a state, economic, military secret.

For this purpose, dozens and dozens of handsome agents were sent to West Germany from the GDR under the guise of refugees. After intense courtings, these irresistible macho heartbreakers offered their chosen ones a hand and a heart and, having entered into a marriage with them, attached to the espionage industry - in essence, creating some sort of Soviet marital reconnaissance tandems. At the same time, the investigators who did the spy secretaries came to the conclusion that among the motives that prompted them to work in favor of the GDR, there was no political component (not to mention their belief in the triumph of socialism!), There was only a passion for money , sexual attraction, unsatisfied ambition and just excitement.

Among those convicted of espionage were secretaries who, after marrying East German intelligence officers, worked for the GUR, were Irena Schulz from the Ministry of Science; Gerda Schröter from the West German Embassy in Warsaw; Gudrun Brown and Leonora Sutterline - who served in the central office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ursula Schmidt from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Counterintelligence of the Federal Republic of Germany). However, the unexposed, who "did not go the distance", that is, and still continues to act, is still a lot.
Dear reader, to leave comments on the publication, you must to register.

I have an account? Sign in

  1. Settlement Oparyshev
    Settlement Oparyshev 16 December 2017 15: 30
    Talent! Colonel Africa the great Man. The memory of Africa de Las Eras Gavian will remain for centuries.
    I note that not a single day she was a sofa specialist.
  2. parusnik
    parusnik 16 December 2017 16: 01
    Thanks, great article ....
    1. tol100v
      tol100v 16 December 2017 20: 50
      Quote: parusnik
      Thanks, great article ....

      I would like to hope that now there are “Africa” and “Asia” with “Europe”!
  3. Monarchist
    Monarchist 16 December 2017 16: 23
    The author, thank you for the story of a man of unusual fate. Even for people of that time, and time was not ordinary (the fight against fascism, strengthening the state) and people were unusual, not many could boast of such a biography.
    Unfortunately, we know very little about such people.
  4. Amurets
    Amurets 16 December 2017 16: 28
    In 1960-s and until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, under the leadership of General Wolf, a strategic operation under the code name “Red Casanova” was successfully implemented. It provided for the involvement in the orbit of the GUR activities of female employees of state institutions of the Federal Republic of Germany (as a rule, they were secretaries of Balzac age with an unsettled personal life) who had access to information constituting a state, economic, military secret.

    And the article is wonderful and the person is wonderful.
    I went to write about something else: in the book of the CIA against the USSR it was written that this operation was not only carried out in Germany, but also in other states where the headquarters and directorates of the NATO organization were located.
  5. Reptiloid
    Reptiloid 16 December 2017 16: 52
    Thank you for the article !, It’s good that I learned about Africa. It's time to find out that it was impossible to speak earlier.
  6. solzh
    solzh 16 December 2017 18: 34
    I have a question for the author of the article, Igor Atamanenko. Should we expect in the near future the same interesting and fascinating as this article new articles about Soviet intelligence officers?
  7. Grishka cat
    Grishka cat 16 December 2017 18: 59
    Mentioned comrade Wolf! Comrade Atamanenko, please write about him!
    1. Amurets
      Amurets 17 December 2017 00: 19
      Quote: Cat Grishka
      Mentioned comrade Wolf! Comrade Atamanenko, please write about him!

      Quote: Grishka the Cat
      Mentioned comrade Wolf!

      It is better to read Marcus Wolf himself. He has two books: * Friendship does not rust * and * Playing on a foreign field. * In the book of this operation, he devoted a whole chapter: "Spying on love."
      "The close connection between espionage and love stories is not the invention of either the authors of the boulevard novels or the intelligence services. It is as old as the second oldest profession ..... Among the many reasons why the motives of those who acted in favor of my services, along with political convictions, idealism, financial reasons and unsatisfied ambition, included love, personal affection for an intelligence officer. " The book is read with great interest.
  8. moskowit
    moskowit 16 December 2017 19: 47
    Extremely interesting! Books about the exploits of the scouts "pale shadow" from their real every minute heroic work. Fantastic life! Eternal Memory and Glory forever!
  9. Looking for
    Looking for 16 December 2017 19: 52
    Her feat is worthy of double respect. Given her gender.
    1. Baloo
      Baloo 18 December 2017 06: 04
      Quote: Seeker
      Her feat is worthy of double respect. Given her gender.

      Young people should be told about such things. Veterans of special services all in the protection of banks and state corporations earn extra money for penalties? And the youth? Is it any wonder the appearance of such as Sorbchak and her similar hens, the negativity of the young.
  10. Whispering in the night
    Whispering in the night 18 December 2017 17: 53
    ..but development did not go according to Spiegelglas’s patterns: on November 2 he was arrested on charges of treason. In order not to become another victim of the repressions unleashed by Yezhov against the KGB veterans

    So, how many of these KGB veterans who made, and then defended October, experienced, skillful, and devoted to their homeland were destroyed by a bloody dwarf and others like them!