Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Soviet NKVD IV

The NKVD Officer – The Red Square, 1945.

On February 5, 1943 this army was designated as the 70th Army with Far-Eastern, Transbaikal, Siberian, Central-Asian, Ural and Stalingrad divisions renamed respectively: 102nd, 106th, 140th, 162nd, 175th and 181st Rifle divisions, a total of 69236 personnel. The 70th Army was instantly transferred to the K.K.Rokossovsky’s Central Front, which was preparing a local offensive, and suffered its first defeat. Rokossovsky wrote after the war: “We have been expecting too much from the 70th Army when directing it to the most important sector on our right wing, where our troops linked with the Bryansk Front. But the former border-guards failed due to the poor experience of the officers, who found themselves in a difficult combat situation for the first time. The units entered combat from the march, in elements and disorganised, without proper artillery support and ammunition”. As the carnage battle of Kursk salient loomed on the horizon, the 70th Army was reinforced considerably, with the staffs of 19th and 28th Rifle Corps arriving, followed by the 19th Tank Corp, 132nd, 211th and 280th Rifle divisions, 1st Guards Artillery division, several separate armour, engineer and aerial units. Withstanding countless German assaults during the battle of Kursk, the 70th Army fought quite well, but that is easily explained by its strength—by the end of August 1943 there were 18 divisions within its ranks, with generous supplies and replacements! Eventually, the 70th Army ended its warpath in the battle of Berlin, after heavy fighting in Poland and East Prussia.

All these measures of either incorporating NKVD troops into the Red Army formations for covering the enormous combat losses, or employing them as blocking detachments for boosting the regular unit’s persistence in defence were quite effective also after the battle of Kursk and transition of strategic initiative to the Soviet side. Nevertheless we can still encounter separate NKVD combat formations later in the war being used on the front-line as assault troops, as was the case with the 290th NKVD Rifle regiment. This unit participated within the ranks of 18th Army in the crushing assault on the port of Novorossijsk on the Taman peninsula in autumn 1943, landing in the city with the seaborne element of the operation and breaching the German defences. The same applies to the 3rd Separate Artillery Unit of NKVD Home Security troops in the battle of Koenigsberg, 1st and 2nd NKVD Artillery Regiments in the battle of Novgorod, 273rd NKVD Rifle regiment in the battle of Gdansk, 145th NKVD Rifle regiment in the battle of Poznan, 103rd Separate Mobile NKVD rear-security troops Group in the battle of Stettin—all winning the decorations and the corresponding honorary titles of Novorossijsk, Koenigsberg, Novgorod, Gdansk, Poznan and Stettin for their ruthless actions. However it should be remembered that since 1943 the NKVD troops returned to their original role of home security troops, whose primary objective was to secure Soviet power both in newly liberated areas and in the rear, so the participation of NKVD units in combat since 1943 should be rather treated as an exception.

Much more typical was their employment in the security operations on the territory of Third Reich and its allies, essentially sketched in the State Committee of Defence Decree dated December 1944. According to this document, entitled as “Concerning the security measures in rear areas and communications of the Red Army in East Prussia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania” , NKVD troops were given a task of maintaining security in the areas lying between the state border and the front-line troops, combating the remnants of German troops, nationalist guerrilla movement, “counter-revolutionary and bourgeois elements” among the civilian population, etc. Therefore, 6 new NKVD divisions were raised, somewhat weaker in strength—only with 5,000 of personnel each, given the numbers of 57th, 58th, 59th, 60th, 61st and 62nd NKVD Rifle divisions. After the Third Reich was crushed, these formations comfortably camped in Germany and Austria, followed by newly raised 63rd, 64th and 65th NKVD Rifle divisions, designated for the occupational service, with the 66th NKVD Rifle division deployed in Romania. The last accord of NKVD fighting forces expansion was witnessed during the August Storm of 1945, when the 3d NKVD Rifle divison followed the rolling Soviet tanks into Manchuria, to neutralise the Japanese resistance and Russian emigrant circles of former ataman Semenov. But the story of their confrontation with the new enemies, like AK or UPA guerrilla armies makes up a separate chapter in the long and fascinating history of Soviet war machine.

After the dawn of "Barbarossa" and the disastrous outcome of the initial battles near the state frontier, the Soviet military leadership realized the necessity of specially trained units for behind-the-lines operations designated to destroy German manpower, thwart enemy advance by demolishing transport infrastructure, assassinate the personnel of the German-backed local anti-Communist self-government, etc. On the 22nd of June 1941 the Special Group appeared in the structure of NKVD, subordinated directly to People's Commissar of Interior, notorious sadist and maniac L.P.Berija; this think-tank, later reformed into 4th Department of NKVD, was expected to conduct reconnaissance operations and creating the underground network on the territories already occupied by Germans, and has headed by experienced spy, saboteur and assassin NKVD Lieutenant-General P.Sudoplatov(responsible for murdering Ukrainian nationalist leader Colonel Eugen Konovalets in Amsterdam in 1938). Among the troops at the disposal of the Special Group of NKVD was initially the Separate Motorized Infantry Brigade for Special Purposes, but this formation remained in the limelight while lesser-known NKVD special-operations units were neglected by post-war historians.
Regional NKVD institutions have also raised their fighting troops to be employed in the special operations, namely the Motorized Infantry Reconnaissance--Demolition Regiment of the Moscow region NKVD Board. This unit was raised in one day according to the order of the Head of NKVD Moscow region Board, Senior Major of State Security M.Zhuravliov, on October 17, 1941. The total number of personnel drafted amounted to 1914 men and women. Initially the core of the Regiment (1st and 2nd battalions) was composed of the weakened and decimated Demolition battalions of the Komintern and Krasnogvardejsk districts of Moscow, basically being similar to British Home Guard or the later German Volkssturm, numbering respectively 298 and 460 soldiers. Later on the 3rd battalion was raised, employing the manpower of the Moscow NKVD security officers and NCOs, and the 4th battalion based on the cadres of NKVD district departments of Moscow, including the criminal police officers and traffic-police sergeants, followed by the students of the Industrial Academy, Physical Training academy, workers and employees and eventually high-school students. The main advantage of the latter was based on the assumption that they were never engaged in the service within NKVD and thus were less vulnerable, as by the time of formation it became evident that the civilian population eagerly handed over NKVD servicemen to SD or German auxiliary units.

Regiment Commander--Border Guarding Troops Colonel A.Mahankov
Regiment Commissar--Major of State Security M.Zapevalin

NKVD Motorized Infantry Reconnaissance--Demolition Regiment was trained extensively during October and early November, prepared for combat in small groups comprising 15-20 men. A typical group would have 5-7 Mosin-Nagant rifles, usually of 1891|/1930 model, one rifle geared with optics, 3-5 automatic SVT Tokarev-1940 rifles, 2 light machine-guns DP(Degtjarov Pehotnyj) in 1927 modification, and 2-3 submachine guns--initially PPD, later replaced by PPSh. All weapon systems were using the 7,62mm bullet, and in order to ensure the uninterrupted supply of ammunition behind the enemy lines the NKVD commanders ordered the deployment of foreign weapons using ammunition identical to German. Thus the undisturbed weapon stocks captured after bloodless Red Army 1939-1940 campaigns in Poland and Baltic states were brought into play, including systems manufactured in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Scandinavia, with curious exceptions, such as Japanese "Arisaka" rifles dating back to World war One. each soldier also received two splinter F-1 hand grenades, or two anti-tank RPG-40 grenades, accompanied by 1-2 Molotov-cocktails, 1 dynamite stick or a landmine. The main handicap of the otherwise well-supplied formation was the debilitating lack of radio equipment, the existing radio stations employed for communication between regimental and battalion headquarters, which seriously affected the fighting capabilities of the Regiment and limited the value of the reconnaissance information it supplied.

The atmosphere of importance which accompanied the formation of NKVD Motorized Infantry Reconnaissance--Demolition Regiment was confirmed at the military parade in Moscow on the 7th of November 1941, when the column of demolition and workers battalions was headed specifically by the NKVD regiment, possibly because of the position its commanders held in NKVD hierarchy.
The first engagement happened in November 1941, when the total of 31 mobile groups comprising 474 soldiers and officers were sent into the woods surrounding Moscow in order to infiltrate the enemy positions. But in reality the main military endeavours consisted of setting fire to the buildings, blowing up the bridges, planting mines on the roads, etc.--according to Zhukov's order of the day on the 30th of October 1941, authorizing the destruction of civilian property on the unprecedented scale--100 kms up to the frontline. These measures have definitely affected German advance, but consequently hindered the Soviet counter-offensive in December-February, when the scorched earth exhibited its double-edged nature. And the civilian population of the Moscow region had a very harsh winter to live through, as a result.


Although it might seem that with so many NKVD officers attending to purely military duties there must have been certain mess and bureaucracy, it appears that NKVD machinery was perfectly adjusted to wartime scenarios. Naturally, when NKVD high-ranked officers were given free hand, which happened in critical situations when Stavka thought that especially harsh leadership was essential, their performance was quite dubious, and Red Army commanders regarded their NKVD colleagues sceptically, as General Shtemenko points out in his memoirs: “The Chief Caucasus mountain range was neither in zone of responsibility of Black Sea or North Army Groups. The 46th Army that defended Caucasus range was to be subordinated directly to the Front Commander, but eventually there emerged a special institution attached to the Front Headquarters, that was called “Headquarters of the Troops Defending Caucasus”, headed by General G.L. Petrov from NKVD. I must confess that it was a purely artificial intermediate structure, that actually duplicated the functions of 46th Army Staff. ”

It was also here in the North-Caucasus Front that other NKVD units have seen combat, such as Ordzhonikidze Rifle Division and Grozny Rifle Division of Home Security troops, and in certain cases were engaged in mass atrocities. The darkest page of the bloody list of NKVD massacres and executions of civilians includes the ethnic purges in the Kabarda-Balkaria Autonomous SSR in November-December 1942. As we all know, the nations of the North Caucasus Soviet republics offered massive support to the advancing German troops struggling to reach the fabulous Transcaucasus oil deposits, providing them with valuable intelligence information, attacking retreating Soviet formations and smaller units, creating self-defence troops that held the mountainous villages and assisted the Wehrmacht infantry in maintaining security in the occupied areas. In retaliation the commander of Soviet 37th Army Major General Kozlov ordered to destroy several Balkar villages and eliminate the “criminal elements”, issuing a phone order to Colonel Shikin of the 11th NKVD Rifle division. On the 28th of November 1942 the NKVD troopers under the command of Captain F. Nakin stormed seven villages and massacred in cold blood approximately 700 civilians and burned up to 40% of the buildings. In December 1942 an internal investigation was carried out within the 37th Army, resulting in a conclusion that the personnel of the 11th NKVD Rifle division committed atrocities and employed unbecoming measures, such as taking the hostages and executing them afterwards. But in 1994 the General Attorney of the Russian North-Caucasus MD held the heated court-hearings in order to decide the gravity of the guilt of Major General Kozlov and Colonel Shikin in the operation which was officially recognised as a part of genocide of Balkar nation in 1992.

After the German withdrawal from occupied North-Caucasus territories in early 1943, the Soviet leadership was fully aware that the local population would not remain passive and most probably would mount a full-scale guerrilla war. As a consequence of daring guerrilla warfare conducted by Caucasus ethnic groups, massive deportations followed in 1943 and 1944, secured by some 100,000 NKVD troops, withdrawn from the front or other places of service.

Meanwhile, let us shed some light on the career of one of the most prominent NKVD figures—Lieutenant General I.I. Maslennikov, whom we already mentioned as Commander of the 29th Army in July 1941. He maintained his high post in the NKVD(People’s Commissar Deputy), and led 39th Army(December 1941—July 1942) in the murderous battle near Rzhev(until Army was encircled and virtually demolished, the remnants disbanded), then took up the command of the North Army group of the North-Caucasus Front(8th of July 1942—24th of January 1943), to be promoted to Commander of North-Caucasus Front(24th of January 1943—13th of May 1943) and receive the Colonel-General rank(30th of January 1943). After unsuccessful attempts to drive the German 17th Army from the Kuban Bridgehead, he was removed from command and appointed Deputy Commander of the Volkhov Front (May 1943—August 1943) in the North, and finally transferred to the Red Army (thus losing his position of People’s Commissar Deputy responsible for operative troops in NKVD) on the 3rd of July 1943. Afterwards a number of short-term secondary appointments followed: Deputy Commander of the South-Western Front (August 1943—October 1943), Deputy Commander of the Third Ukrainian Front (October 1943—December 1943), Commander of the 42nd Army (December 1943—March 1944), Deputy Commander of the Leningrad Front (March 1944—April 1944). Eventually, Maslennikov was designated the Commander of the Third Baltic Front, formed of the troops on the left wing of the Leningrad Front for the liberation of Baltic states, which was to become his most successful campaign. Maslennikov’s troops broke through the Panther-Line in July 1944, and maintained heavy pressure on the Germans until the front was disbanded on the 16th of October 1944, and it was in July that Maslennikov was awarded the rank of Army General. After a long leave Maslennikov was designated the Deputy Commander in Chief of Soviet Forces in the far East(August-September 1945) and thus was concerned with the victorious war with Japan. After the war was over, he served relatively short terms as a commander of Baku and Transcaucasus Military Districts, to return to active service in Ministry of Internal Affairs since 1948, on his previous important position. But in the turmoil years that followed after the death of Stalin and fall of Berija, Maslennikov’s omnipotent chief, he was facing the threat of investigation concerning his activities as NKVD key figure, and to avoid this he committed suicide in March 1954.

During the desperate Soviet attempts to thwart the unceasing German onslaught on the city-fortress of Stalingrad in August 1942, the 10th NKVD Rifle division under the command of Colonel A.A. Saraev(also the commander of the garrison of the city) fought staunchly on the northern outskirts, suffering tremendous losses and being decorated with the Order of Lenin for the valour of its personnel. Simultaneously, spurred by the bitter need of raising new formations, preferably with firm and ruthless leadership, the Soviet High Command decided to perform a step similar to the formation of the Sixth SS Panzer Armee.

State Committee of Defence Decree concerning the formation of NKVD field armies

N 2411cc
14 October 1942 Moscow

1. The suggestion of NKVD concerning the formation of NKVD field army comprising six Rifle divisions of a total of 70, 000 men should be accepted.
2. For the army formation 55, 000 personnel should be allocated, at the expense of NKVD troops (including: 29, 750 of the border guards, 16, 750 of the home security troops and 8, 500 of the railway guards).
People’s Commissariat of Defence—com. Shchadenko and Rumjantsev should select 15, 000 of servicemen (privates and officers) for the completion of Army’s technical services—artillery, signal troops, engineer troops and other according to the NKVD’s application.

3. People’s Commissariat of Defence—com. Shchadenko— should be obliged to draft and direct to the NKVD troops 50, 000 servicemen born in 1925 in order to cover the number of NKVD personnel deployed for the Army formation.
4. People’s Commissariat of Defence—com. Shchadenko, Khruljev, Jakovlev, Fedorenko, Aborenkov and Peresypkin—should provide the Army with weapons, ammunition, communication equipment, engineer and chemical equipment, trucks, fuel and lubricants, and also with the missing uniforms, gear and horses according to the applications of NKVD.
5. The Army Staff should be created and deployed in the city of Sverdlovsk.
The formation of divisions should be performed in Khabarovsk, Chita, Novosibirsk, Sverdlovsk, Cheljabinsk and Tashkent. The formation of the Army and deployment of divisions in the vicinity of Sverdlovsk should be finished before the 15th of January 1943.
6. People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs com. Berija and People’s Commissariat of Defence—com. Zhukov—should present the candidates to fill the position of Army Commander, Military Council members, Chief of Staff and divisional commanders for the approval of High Command.
7. The Army should be entered into the High Command Reserve and in all respects be equal to the Guards Troops.

State Committee of Defence Chairman

Soviet NKVD II

In a short period of time, with fierce fighting raging in full swing on all fronts, 15 divisions were formed and reinforced the Soviet defences—10 of them were sent to the Western direction(243rd, 244th, 246th, 247th, 249th, 250th, 251st, 252nd, 254th, 256th), and 5 to the North-West(257th, 259th, 262nd, 265th, 268th ). A contemporary Russian publication dedicated to the research of internal security troops, refers to the matter as follows:

“An important part of the activities conducted by the home security troops during the years of Great Patriotic War was the raising of units and formations for the Red Army Field Force from the personnel of NKVD troops. The week after the war started—on the 29th of June 1941—the government ordered NKVD to raise 15 Rifle divisions for the needs of Fronts. For each of these division NKVD allocated 1000 of personnel to fill the positions of commanders and NCOs. The remaining personnel was drafted from reserve. All these divisions were raised within 15-20 days and were transferred to the 29th, 30th, 31st, 34th and some other Armies of the first line that were sent to the Western direction in July 1941. Also a number of NKVD officers and generals were appointed on the commanding and political positions in the troops of the Field Force. For instance, the commander of the 29th Army was Lieutenant General I.I. Maslennikov(Deputy of People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs responsible for the NKVD troops), who was to command a number of Armies and Fronts in the coming years. Lieutenant General S.A Artemjev(Chief of NKVD operative troops Department) was appointed the Commander of Moscow Military District(bearing tremendous political importance), while Divisional Commissar of NKVD troops K.F. Telegin was appointed the head of Political Board of this same Moscow MD, and later was to become the member of the Military Council of the Front, and so on. ”

To this interesting reference we might add the following information: 30th Army in July 1941 was headed by NKVD Major General V.A. Khomenko(previously the commander of NKVD border guards in the Ukrainian Border District), and the 31st Army was headed by NKVD Major General K.I. Rakutin(previously the commander of NKVD Baltic Border District), who was succeeded by NKVD Major General V.N. Dolmatov(previously the commander of NKVD Karelian-Finnish Border District). But Major General K.I. Rakutin was not sent back to guard the USSR state border elsewhere, to the Far East or Iran, instead he was given quite responsible task on the Reserve Front.

When reading Marshal G.K. Zhukov’s memoirs, we might encounter yet another indication of employing NKVD troops personnel at the Army level, namely in the well-known Yelnia counterstrike of the Soviet Reserve Front in August 1941: “We arrived at the headquarters of the 24th Army late in the evening. The Army commander K.I. Rakutin and the commanders of Army’s branches of forces were expecting us already. I have never met K.I. Rakutin before; his report on the situation and the deployment of his troops made a good impression, but it was obvious that he did not possess the necessary operative and tactical education—in fact, K.I. Rakutin had the same deficiency as many officers and generals, which previously served in the NKVD border troops, because they almost did not have a possibility to improve their operative skills.”

During the desperate Soviet efforts to thwart Fieldmarschal von Leeb’s armoured spearheads on the approaches to Leningrad, 1st, 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd NKVD divisions were staunchly repelling massive German attacks. Curiously, before the war started, the 20th NKVD Rifle division was deployed in the vicinity of strategic Belomor Canal, built with the assistance of forced labour employment. It should be stressed that later in the war some of these divisions were transferred to regular Red Army and instantly renamed which probably makes the task of researching their fates more difficult: 1st NKVD division (commander colonel S.I. Donskov) turned into 46th Rifle division, 20th NKVD division was designated a 92nd Rifle division, and 21st NKVD division was renamed as 109th Rifle division. These formations won high appraisal in course of the war and were decorated with many orders, moreover, after the war was over, a monument to the soldiers of the 1st NKVD division was erected in Leningrad—the division was virtually wiped off by a massive Luftwaffe airstrike on the 6th of September 1941.

The defence of Kharkiv in autumn 1941 by the troops of Soviet 38th Army was also considerably strengthened by the presence of 47th NKVD Rifle brigade that mounted several successful counterattacks in October.

Evidently, the construction of deep Soviet defensive lines initiated in autumn 1941 required massive human resources, the exploitation of which was impossible without forced labour management, hence the need to use seasoned NKVD personnel with good GULAG system records. Thus Yakov Davydovich Rapoport, bearing the NKVD rank of Senior Major of State Security, who was responsible for starving thousands of GULAG camp prisoners on various “building projects”(Baltic Sea—White Sea canal, hydroelectric power stations, etc.) before the war, was appointed the Commander of the 3rd Engineer Army in November 1941; while Commissar of the State Security of the 3rd rank Sergej Kruglov(People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs Deputy) led the 4th Engineer Army since October 1941, previously participating in the court-martial sessions within the Reserve Front, where he served as a Military Council member(July-October 1941). For his endeavours in mobilising thousands of civilians for the erection of gigantic defence lines in the vicinity of major Soviet cities with a 12-hour working day and meagre food rations, Kruglov was awarded a rank of Colonel General later in the war.

A sophisticated task of creating and leading a large-scale partisan movement in the occupied Soviet areas was partly solved by Soviet High Command after employing NKVD personnel, parachuted in German rear; it is quite apparent that without NKVD cadres the partisan movement would have never been able to achieve serious successes. In Ukraine it was co-ordinated by notorious T. Strokach, People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs Deputy (28.3.1941—16.1.1946), who was in charge of the so-called Ukrainian Partisan Movement High Command in 1942-1945.

After the major Soviet counter-offensive in winter of 1941-1942 dozens of cities, towns and villages were recaptured, and, according to the State Committee of Defence Decree dated January 4, 1942, strong garrisons of fresh NKVD troops were to be deployed in the liberated areas, with a possibility of future participation in combat. Therefore 6 NKVD Rifle divisions and 3 NKVD Motorised Rifle divisions were raised, consisting of 5-6 regiments with 3 battalions in each regiment, with the engagement of 92,000 NKVD troops (Railway Guarding troops, Escort troops) and 2,000 of Border-Guards. In the city of Tihvin the 5th NKVD Rifle division was raised, in Kalinin the 6th NKVD Rifle division, in Tula the 7th NKVD Motorised Rifle division, in Voronezh the 8th NKVD Motorised Rifle division, in Rostov the 9th NKVD Motorised Rifle division, in Stalingrad the 10th NKVD Rifle division, in Krasnodar the 11th NKVD Rifle division and in Saratov the 12th NKVD Rifle division. However, soon the situation on the fronts demanded that the 8th NKVD Motorised Rifle division, 9th NKVD Motorised Rifle division, 10th and 11th NKVD Rifle divisions were moved to the Red Army, so additional 8 NKVD Rifle brigades, one Rifle regiment and 3 separate NKVD battalions, all in all 44,000 strong were raised in April 1942. Even so, as the German army has inflicted heavy defeat to the RKKA during the Operation Blau in the southern sector of the East Front in summer 1942, a further increase in need of NKVD reserves emerged.

Appendix to the State Committee of Defence Decree

¹ 2100cc
of 26 July 1942
Top Secret

List of NKVD units being transferred to the Red Army in the strength of 75, 000 servicemen

Branch of NKVD troops Strength
1. NKVD home security troops

9th motorised Rifle division(full strength) 8, 700

13th motorised Rifle division (including 4th, 266th, 274th and 289th regiments and technical services) 6, 580

Separate Rifle brigade of border guards (full strength) 4, 000

1st division
20th division total of 23, 766
21st division

other home security troops 8, 547

2. Border guards 7, 000
3. Troops guarding important industrial objects 5, 414
4. Railway guarding troops 6, 673
5.Escort troops 4, 320

Total 75, 000