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.

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