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
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