Inside the Soviet Army (IV) by Victor Suvorov (1982)
Inside the Soviet Army (IV) by Victor Suvorov (1982)
Secrets, Secrets, Secrets
The 41st Guards Tank Division was issued with T-64 tanks at the
beginning of 1967. Of course, its soldiers knew nothing about this. They
joined the division, served it honourably for two years and then went back
to their homes; other soldiers came, learned something about tanks but went
home having heard nothing about the T-64 and never having seen one. In 1972
the division was reequipped with the new T-72s and the T-64s were sent to
Germany. The soldiers, of course, knew nothing about this--neither that the
division had received new tanks nor that the old ones had gone. The soldiers
serve in a division, they are trained by it for war but they know nothing
about its tanks.
To the Western reader this may seem rather strange. However, when I
came to the West and took my first look at Western armies, I was astounded
to discover that Western soldiers knew the names of their tanks, and that
they drive and fire from them. This seemed absurd to me, but I was unable to
obtain any explanation of this strange policy.
In the Soviet Army everything is secret. When the war began it was not
only the German generals who knew nothing about the T-34 tank--even the
Soviet generals knew no more than they did. It was being mass-produced, but
this was kept secret. Not even the tank forces knew of its existence. The
new tanks were moved from the factories to some divisions, but only to those
which were a long way back from the frontiers. They were ferried by a
factory team (totalling 30 drivers for the whole of the Soviet Union) in
convoys, the like of which had never been seen before, escorted by NKVD
officers, who were forbidden even to talk to the drivers. They travelled
only at night and the tanks were always completely covered with tarpaulins.
The routes they took were closed to all other traffic and heavily guarded.
When the tanks reached their destination, they were off-loaded by the
factory team, who then drove them into vehicle parks, surrounded by high
walls, inside which they were put into storage.
The tank crews were quickly instructed on various features of the new
tanks, but they were not told what the new tanks were called or shown them.
The gunners were, however, introduced to the new gunsights and taught how to
use them, firing from old tanks. The drivers were given intensive training
in the old tanks after being told that there was a new tank in the offing,
which had to be driven rather differently. The drivers did not, of course,
know whether the division already had this new tank or not. The tank
commanders, too, were told a certain amount and shown how to service the
engine, but they were not told the name of the tank from which the unusual
engine came or given its horse-power. In short, the division was simply
retrained, but only used the old tanks.
Then came the war, unexpected and terrifying. The first echelon
divisions, which had good, although not secret equipment, were torn to
pieces in the first battles. While this was happening, the divisions in the
rear areas received orders to go into the tank parks, to take the tanks out
of storage and to familiarise themselves with them. It took them two weeks
to do this and after a further two weeks they reached the front. Then in
these completely unknown tanks, the divisions took on Guderian's armoured
columns. It was soon clear that they could operate them very well. After
all, a driver who can handle a Volkswagen like a champion would not take
long to master a Mercedes. That is how it was done in the Soviet Army then
and how it will be done in future--they learn on a Volkswagen, but keep the
Mercedes secretly hidden away until it is really needed.
But, of course, the T-34 was not the only surprise awaiting the
Germans. They discovered the existence of the `KV' heavy tank only when they
met it in action; before that they had not even heard of it. Nor, for that
matter, had its Soviet tank-crews had any idea of its existence--the KV had
been secretly stored away. The German troops soon met the `Stalin Organ' for
the first time, too, and panicked when they did so. In peacetime sub-units
armed with these excellent weapons had masqueraded as pontoon-bridge
battalions, whose uniforms they had worn, with the result that most of their
own soldiers had not realised that they were in reality rocket troops. Their
retraining started only when the war began, but even then only the battery
commanders knew the correct designation of their rocket launchers. The
remaining officers, NCOs and other ranks did not even know what the
equipment which they were using in battle was called. The launchers were
marked with the letter K (standing for the Komintern factory in Voronezh).
Naturally, no one, even the battery commanders, knew what this stood for and
the result was that the soldiers on every front almost simultaneously
christened these splendid weapons `Katerina', `Katya' or `Katyusha'. It was
under this last name that they went down in history. Their correct
designation--BM-13--was only allowed to be used in secret documents from the
middle of 1942 onwards and it was not used in unclassified papers until
after the end of the war.
The policy of observing the strictest rules of secrecy has completely
justified itself. For this reason it is universally accepted and is applied
with ever greater rigour. As a result, officers serving in a nuclear
submarine may know, for instance, the output of the boat's reactor, if they
are involved in its maintenance, but they will not know the maximum depth to
which the boat can dive, since this does not concern them. Others may know
this maximum depth, but will not know the range of the missiles which the
This policy of secrecy is applied to the production of heavy assault
guns, mounted on tank chassis. A tank with a fixed turret is an excellent
weapon. True, its arc of fire is reduced, but against this, a more powerful
gun can be installed, the quantity of ammunition it carries can be
increased, its armour can be strengthened without increasing its overall
weight and, most important, it is much easier to manufacture. Guns of this
sort are indispensable, when used in close conjunction with tanks with
normal turrets. Both the Soviet and the German generals came to realise
their value during the war, but since then only the former have continued to
produce them. In order that other countries should not be tempted to
introduce this simple but excellent weapon, all Soviet heavy assault guns
are protected by strict security measures. Their production has continued,
without a break, ever since the war. Every motor-rifle regiment (inside the
USSR, but not abroad) has one battery of heavy assault guns. In the 1950s
the powerful D-74 (122mm) was mounted on a T-54 tank chassis, then the M-46
gun (1 30mm) was installed on the T-62 tank chassis. All regiments, without
exception, have heavy assault guns of this type. They are kept in mothballs
for decades, never seeing the light of day. Their crews train on T-54 and
T-62 tanks. Sometimes they are shown the gunsights of the assault guns. They
know the tactics which will be used and they know how to service the
engines. If war should break out their commander would disclose to them that
instead of tanks they were about to be equipped with something which was
similar but far more powerful and better armoured. In the middle of the
1970s all these guns were replaced by more powerful models but, naturally,
they were not melted down. Instead they were either sent to the Chinese
frontier to be installed in concrete emplacements or sent to holding depots,
in case they should come in useful one day.
The same secrecy is maintained around the IT-1 and IT-2 anti-tank
rocket launchers and the Rapira-2 and Rapira-3 anti-tank guns.
The IT-1 is built on a T-62 tank chassis but is armed with the `Drakon'
anti-tank rocket instead of a gun. Each Army has one battalion of IT-1s,
which are kept in mothballs, well concealed and never seen even by the
battalion's own soldiers. If the Army to which it belongs is posted abroad,
the battalion remains on Soviet territory, to all appearances an ordinary
tank battalion. Its soldiers are given instruction in tactics and driving
and maintenance of the vehicles but ordinary tanks or training simulators
are used for this.
In this way it is possible to serve out your time in the Soviet Army,
learning nothing--or very little--about its equipment.
How Much Does All This Cost?
Nothing at all. I will repeat that. All this costs nothing at all.
Let us imagine that you work at a full-time job, but that your wife
does not. You give her an allowance and she has no other source of income.
You start to give her driving lessons and decide to make yourself some money
by doing so. After all, you are using up energy, time, labour, nerves and
petrol. But now answer a question--is it more in your interest to make your
wife pay through the nose for her lessons, or to keep the price low? Which
will be more profitable for you?
If you were giving lessons to a neighbour, of course, you would ask as
high a price as you felt you could. But what should you do when you are
teaching your own wife? The more money you make her pay, in the hope of
becoming rich, the more she will need from you, for where else could she get
If you lower your fee, you will need to give your wife less, and she
will let you have less back. You soon realise that whatever you charge she
will just be taking money from your pocket and then returning it to you.
Now, turn your thoughts to the 6th Guards Tank Army, with its thousands
of tanks and tens of thousands of men. Imagine yourself to be the Communist
Pharaoh, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Something strange--goodness knows what--is going on in Czechoslovakia. To
safeguard yourself you decide to move the 6th Guards Army up to your
frontier with this fraternal state. It is only possible to move a thousand
tanks over a distance of a thousand kilometres by rail, for tanks wear out
roads very fast--and vice versa. How much is this going to cost you? You
summon the Minister of Railways (being nationalised, the railways are fully
controlled by the people--in other words by the government--that is, by you
personally) and put this question to him. He tells you--`100 million
rubles'. This means that you will have to take 100 million rubles out of the
State's pocket and give it to the Army; the Army pays the money to the
railways, which, in turn, puts this, the profit they have made, back into
the State's pocket. What on earth is the point of taking it out in the first
place, if it was going to be put back almost immediately? So, in fact, it
does not get taken out in the first place. The General Secretary just
summons the Minister and tells him to move the 6th Guards Tank Army. The
Minister says `Yes, Sir', clicks his heels and does as he has been told.
That is all. No money is needed for the operation. The same system applies
to any movement by individual soldiers. An officer comes to a railway
station and shows papers which say that in the national interest he is to
proceed to the Far East. What would be the point in giving the officer
money, for him to pay a State organisation, which must then refund the same
money to the State?
In the Soviet Union everything has been nationalised. Private deals are
forbidden. Since everything is in the hands of the State, prices for goods
produced for the State have no meaning. Tanks, guns, rockets--none has any
price inside the State. It is like growing a strawberry in your garden,
selling it to yourself and eating it, moving the money you pay for it from
your right pocket to your left one. Your strawberry only acquires a price if
you sell it to someone else and put the money he pays you into your pocket.
In the same way, Soviet tanks acquire a price only when someone abroad buys
For the State, which owns all the safes in the land, to move billions
of rubles from one safe to another is meaningless. So nothing is moved. A
Ministry simply receives an order to produce a thousand tanks or rockets or
bombers and to deliver them to the armed forces. That is all. If a minister
does not carry out his orders he loses his place at the ministerial
feeding-trough. Money of a sort is paid to the workers but it is really
nothing but the equivalent of ration cards. Workers are given just enough to
buy bread or potatoes, a poor quality suit every three years and vodka every
day. This money is printed by the State but it is not recognised by anyone
abroad, since it can not be exchanged for gold.
In the Soviet Union there are virtually no taxes, because they are not
needed. Everything is in the hands of the State, everything has been
nationalised. A Soviet banknote is essentially a ration card, issued by the
State for work done in its interests. Why hand out ten ration cards and then
take five of them back again? The State does not grow any richer by
re-acquiring these cards, which do not help to make more meat available in
the shops. Accordingly, the State, which prints these cards, produces only
enough to buy the amount of bread, potatoes, rotten meat and old fashioned
clothes which it is prepared to distribute to its citizens. The latter eat
the meat and give the ration cards back to the State, which hands them out
Sometimes the State becomes more concerned about producing tanks than
food, but it must continue to hand out ration cards to the people. This
creates inflation, since now the ration cards can not even purchase bread
and this soon has a calamitous effect on the whole huge military machine.
It is a good thing that there are capitalists in the world, ready to
come forward with help at times like these.
The Soviet Union has designed a large number of first-class weapons,
among them the T-34 tank, the Kalashnikov automatic assault rifle and the
IL-2 Shturmovik ground attack aircraft. Even today, in the early 1980s, no
one has succeeded in improving on the performance of the Soviet 130mm gun,
although it was developed as long ago as 1935. The Soviet Union was the
first to use rockets fired from an aircraft--this was in August 1939 in
Mongolia, in combat with Japanese aircraft. A Soviet motor torpedo boat
(under Egyptian colours) was the first in history to use rockets to sink an
enemy ship. The Soviet Union was the first to use the BM-13 salvo-firing
rocket launcher. The Soviet Union was the first, many years ago, to realise
the value of smoothbore guns, with their astonishingly high muzzle velocity,
and it was the first to mass-produce automatic mortars and many other
excellent types of weapon.
At the same time, the Soviet intelligence services, the largest in the
world, search unceasingly for anything new in the field of military
equipment. The enormous extent of Soviet activity in this sphere beggars
description. Soviet intelligence succeeded in obtaining all the technical
documentation needed to produce nuclear weapons, in winning over a number of
distinguished scientists and in ideologically recruiting others as agents.
Since the war, the Soviet Union has succeeded in copying and in putting
into mass production the American B-29 bomber, British Rolls-Royce aircraft
engines, American lorries and German V-2 rockets. It has also completed the
development of a number of German rocket designs which were still unfinished
at the end of the war. It has stolen plans for the construction of French
anti-tank rockets, American air-launched missiles, laser range-finders,
stabilisers for tank guns, rocket fuel, special dye-stuffs and many, many
other highly important products.
The Soldier's Lot
For 35 years (between the ages of 17 and 50) all Soviet men--and all
the Soviet women whose professions might make them useful to the Armed
Forces--remain on the register of those liable for military service, forming
the Armed Forces reserve. This register, listing all these individuals, is
maintained by Rayon City, Oblast, and Republic Commissars, who come under
the orders of the Organisational Directorate of the Military Districts and,
thus, ultimately, of the Chief Organisational Directorate of the General
The tens of millions of people on the register may be called up without
notice, if either partial or full mobilisation is announced.
As soon as a young man is 17, he appears before a medical board and is
listed on the register. The next year, as soon as he is 18, he is called up
for service in the Armed Forces. Depending on the date of his birthday, this
may happen in the spring (in May or June), or in the winter (in November or
Conscripts spend two years in all Services and arms of service, except
for the Navy, in which they serve for three years.
Every year, two intakes, each of approximately a million young men join
the Armed Forces and those who have completed their service are demobilized.
Thus, every six months something like a quarter of the total number of other
ranks changes over. New men join, the older ones leave, remaining on the
reserve until they are 50.
Private Ivanov received instructions to report to the local assembly
point on 29 May. In preparation he did three things:
-- he got together with a gang of fellow spirits to beat up some of his
enemies, in accordance with the principle--`Today you help me to knock the
hell out of the people I don't like and then tomorrow I'll help you to do
-- he told his girl-friend that she was to wait two years for him, to
go out with no one else and to write to him frequently--`Otherwise you'll
see, I'll come back and kill you. You know me.'
-- on the night of 28 May he drank himself into complete insensibility.
Parents realise that unless they hand over their drunken son to the assembly
point by midday he will be punished under military law.
A convoy takes the crowd of drunk and half-drunk youths to the station,
where they are put on a train and taken to their place of duty.
A soldier is not entitled to choose an arm of service, the area in
which he will serve or the trade which he will follow in the army. Long
before Ivanov received his call-up papers, the General Staff had sent all
Military Commissariats details of the men they would be receiving and
instructions on where they were to send them. Naturally, the General Staff
does not go into details, saying no more than `150 men, of category "0" are
to be sent to Military unit 54678'. This may be a unit of diversionary
troops, it may be a nuclear submarine, or it may be something very secret
indeed. The Military Commissar can only guess. (If the number has four
figures the unit belongs to either the KGB or the Ministry of Internal
Affairs. If it has five, it is a Ministry of Defence unit.) This is all he
is told except that there is sometimes a minor additional requirement, such
as `Category "0", but all are to be tall and physically well-developed.'
The Military Commissar prepares groups of soldiers by categories--for
instance, 5 men from Category 1, 100 from Category 2 and 5,000 from Category
3 to military unit 64192. The Military Units receive their own
instructions--`You will receive 100 men from Khabarovsk, 950 from Baku, 631
Each Military District makes up several troop transports, provides
escorts and officers, and sends them off to different corners of the huge
country, while mixed columns move off to distant rocket batteries, fortified
areas and motor-rifle divisions.
One requirement is sacrosanct when these selections are being made:
whenever possible, Russians must not be stationed in the RSFSR, Ukrainians
in the Ukraine or Latvians in Latvia. If there are disturbances among the
Russian population of, for instance, Murom or Tolyatti or Omsk, these will
be crushed, sometimes with considerable bloodshed, by non-Russian soldiers.
If a strike breaks out in Donetsk (as one did in 1970) there will be no
Ukrainian soldiers in the area. The soldiers stationed there are Tatars,
Kirghiz, Georgians. It is all the same to them who they shoot at. What is
important is that there is no one in the crowd confronting them whom they
know and no one in it who speaks a language they can understand.
It is also essential to mix all the nationalities together in
divisions, regiments and battalions. If one regiment contains too many
Lithuanians and another too many Tatars, this must result from a slip-up by
some military bureaucrat. The punishment for such mistakes is harsh.
The movement of such colossal numbers of men takes up two whole months.
Surprisingly, the machine works extremely smoothly, rather like a sausage
machine--all sorts of pieces of meat, some onions, some rusks, and some
garlic are put in at one end and out of the other come solidly compressed
rolls of well-mixed human material.
A column of new recruits is not a sight for anyone with weak nerves.
Traditionally, anyone joining the army dresses in such rags that you wonder
where on earth he found them. For recruits know that any more or less
useable article--socks which are not in tatters, for instance--will
immediately be seized from them by the soldiers escorting the column. So
they dress in the sort of rags which should be thrown on a bonfire--a
mechanic's boiler suit, solid with grease, a painter's working clothes
daubed with paint of all colours, even a sewage-collector's overalls. Many
of them will have black eyes, acquired in farewell fights with their local
enemies. All are unshaven, uncombed, shaggy, dirty--and drunk, into the
All the officers and soldiers escorting the column are armed. The
roughest, toughest sergeants and other ranks are chosen for this job. They
stop the fights which keep breaking out, giving the recruits new bruises as
they do so. The young newcomers quickly feel the weight of a sergeant's fist
and soon realise that it is best to do what he tells them--and that the same
goes for a soldier, who may himself have spent a fortnight in the same sort
of column, swapping punches with those around him, as recently as a year
Anyone who has once seen for himself what a column of these new
recruits looks like will understand why there are no volunteers in the
Soviet Army, why there never could be and why there is no need for them. The
whole system is too inflexible, too regulated, and too tightly controlled to
concern itself with any individual's opinions or wishes. Everyone is simply
grabbed, indiscriminately, as soon as he reaches 18, and that's that.
How to avoid being called up
At some juncture long ago, before Stalin, in Lenin's day, the wise
decision was taken that the state apparatus should be manned, not by
riff-raff, but by comrades of proven worth, who were responsible,
experienced and dedicated to the popular cause. In order that the state
should not be infiltrated by alien elements at some stage in the future, it
was decided that successors to this ruling group should be prepared and that
it was essential to ensure that these young people were appropriately
educated. Educational establishments were therefore set up to prepare the
future ruling class, and these were filled, for the most part, with the
children of the comrades of proven worth, who were themselves dedicated to
the revolutionary cause. The comrades were very pleased with this plan and
have never since contemplated any deviation from the course approved by
As an illustration--the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR,
Comrade A. A. Gromyko is, of course, a person of proven worth. It follows
that his son, too, must be dedicated to the people's cause; this means that
Comrade Gromyko's son can become a diplomat and, provided that it is
possible to check that Comrade Gromyko's son has made a success of this
career, the grandson of Comrade Gromyko, too, can enter the diplomatic
service. Comrade Gromyko's deputy is Comrade Malik. He, too, is a trusted
person, dedicated to the national cause and this means that the road to a
diplomatic career is also open to both his son and his grandson.
The comrades of proven worth got together and agreed among themselves
that, since their children were already dedicated to their Motherland and
prepared to defend its interests throughout their entire lives, there was no
need for them to enter the army. Accordingly, when the sons of the comrades
of proven worth reach 17 they are not required to register for military
service; instead, wasting no time, they enter the Institute of International
Relations. After qualifying there, they go off to spend not just two years
but the whole of their lives defending the interests of their Motherland at
the most exposed portion of the front line in the battle against
capitalism--in Paris, Vienna, Geneva, Stockholm or Washington. This is why
the children of the comrades of proven worth do not have to be ferried
around in dirty railway trucks, are not punched in the mouth by sergeants,
and do not have their gold teeth pulled out, and why, too, their
girl-friends do not need to wait for them for two or three years.
Lest the absurd idea should enter anyone's head that the sons of the
comrades of proven worth are not defending socialism, with weapons in their
hands, they are given military awards for their service from time to time.
The son of that most responsible and trusted of all comrades, Brezhnev, for
instance, spent years defending the interests of socialism in the barricades
of Stockholm; on his return from this most crucial operation he was given
the military rank of Major-General even though he has never spent a day in
the army, or indeed as much as an hour locked in a railway wagon with a lot
of grubby recruits.
In the KGB, as in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, they read the works
of Lenin and therefore, following his precepts, they, too, admit to their
training establishments the sons of comrades of proven worth, rather than
just anyone. And because these boys, too, will have to spend their lives
defending socialism, they are also given exemption from military service.
The Workers' and Peasants' State contains a mass of other important
state organisations and undertakings for which future leaders must be
prepared. To train them an enormous network of higher educational
institutions has been set up. The comrades of proven worth have decreed that
anyone entering one of these higher educational institutions is to be
granted exemption from military service. The universities organise military
training courses, of limited scope, and these are considered sufficient.
In every town there is at least one institute which is ultimately
controlled, through a series of intermediate authorities, by the First
Secretary of the Oblast Committee of the Party. Naturally, the First
Secretary's own children do not attend this institute. They study somewhere
in Moscow. But he has a Second Secretary and a Third; they have deputies,
who themselves have assistants, who have consultants. All of these have
children. Formerly all those concerned with the administration of the Oblast
sent their children straight to the local institute where, since they were
the children of trusted comrades, they were received with open arms.
Nowadays, things have changed somewhat. The Third Secretary of the Oblast
Committee will telephone his opposite number in a nearby town--`My son is
due for call-up in the autumn and your boy next spring. If you'll look after
my son, I'll do the same for yours.' A mutually beneficial exchange is
arranged. A couple of lotus-eaters are admitted to two higher educational
institutions, without being required to pass any examinations. However, they
find themselves in neighbouring towns, rather than at home, and they are
also regarded as `workers and peasants' rather than as the sons of comrades
of proven worth. But then, first in one town and then in the other, the two
Third Secretaries are suddenly seized with the desire to improve the living
conditions of students. Not everyone can be given a rent-free apartment, of
course, so the Oblast Committee allocates just one. Thus only one student
gets one--our own, dear `worker-peasant'. With considerable effort he
obtains his certificate of higher education. Everyone else is sent off to
work in Siberia but he is found a place with the Oblast Committee, as an
assistant. Time passes quickly, he climbs steadily upwards and before long
his own son is growing up and will soon be eligible for army service.
Meanwhile, however, the system has become more complicated. Mutually helpful
exchanges between two neighbouring towns are too conspicuous. So our
worker-peasant doesn't enrol his son in the nearest town. Instead, the son
of someone who appears to be a true member of the working class enters an
institute in a third town, without having to pass exams, while from this
third town to ours comes an apparently straightforward young man, the son of
some official or other, whose name no one knows. A flat is quickly found for
this young man, who then gets a post with the Oblast Committee. He finds a
job there for someone else, who reciprocates by letting him have a car,
without payment, and who in his turn does the same for yet another person.
The wheel turns on and hundreds of thousands of parasites avoid having to
endure the railway wagons or the brutish armed sergeants.
But what happens if your father is not among those at the helm of the
Workers' and Peasants' State? In that case if he will just slip the Military
Commissar a few thousand rubles, you can be found unfit for military service
and your name removed from the register. The Military Commissar in Odessa
was shot for doing this, the same happened in Kharkov, in Tbilisi, every
year for five years in succession, they sent a Military Commissar to gaol
but that did not solve the problem so they had to shoot the sixth one. They
would hardly have shot a Military Commissar--a Colonel--for misdeeds
involving a few thousand rubles. The sums concerned must have been very
And if your father has not got a few thousand rubles to spare? Then you
could cut off your trigger finger with an axe. Or you could stick a small
piece of foil on your back when you go for your X-ray, so that they decide
you have tuberculosis and turn you down for the army. You could go to
prison. But if you haven't the courage for any of these, brother, you'll
find yourself in that dirty railway wagon.
If you can't, we'll teach you; if you don't want to, we'll make you
The column of recuits finally reaches the division to which it has been
allocated. The thousands of hushed, rather frightened youths leave the train
at a station surrounded by barbed wire, their heads are quickly shaven, they
are driven through a cold bath, their filthy rags are burned on huge fires,
they are issued with crumpled greatcoats, tunics and trousers that are too
large or too small, squeaky boots and belts. With that the first grading
process is completed. It does not occur to any of them that each of them has
already been assessed, taking into account his political reliability, his
family's criminal record (or absence of one), participation (or failure to
participate) in Communist mass meetings, his height and his physical and
mental development. All these factors have been taken into account in
grading him as Category 0, 1, 2, and so forth and then allocating him to a
sub-category of one of these groups. There will be no more than ten Category
0 soldiers in a whole motor-rifle division--they will go to the 8th
department of the divisional staff. In each intake there will be two or
three of them, who will replace others who are being demobilised, and who
will themselves join the reserve. They have no idea that they are in this
particular category or that files exist on them which have long ago been
checked and passed by the KGB.
Category 1 soldiers are snapped up by the divisional rocket or
reconnaissance battalions or by the regimental reconnaissance companies.
Category 2 soldiers are those who are able to understand and to work with
complicated mathematical formulae. They are grabbed by the fire-control
batteries of the artillery regiment, of the anti-aircraft rocket regiment
and of the self-propelled artillery battalions of the motor-rifle and tank
regiments. And then there are the soldiers of my own arm of service, the
tank crews--Category 6, thanks to the swine who do the planning in the
General Staff. But nothing can be done about that--the army is enormous and
bright soldiers are in demand everywhere. Everyone is after the strong,
brave, healthy ones. Not everyone can be lucky.
A detachment is set up in each battalion, to handle the new intake. The
battalion commander's deputy heads this and he is assisted by some of the
platoon commanders and sergeants. Their task is to turn the recruits into
proper soldiers in the course of one month. This is called a `Young
Soldier's Course'. It is a very hard month in a soldier's life; during it he
comes to realise that the sergeant above him is a king, a god and his
The recruits are subjected to a most elaborate and rigorous
disciplinary programme; they clean out lavatories with their tooth-brushes,
they are chased out of bed twenty or thirty times every night, under
pressure to cut seconds off the time it takes them to dress, their days are
taken up with training exercises which may last for sixteen hours at a
stretch. They study their weapons, they are taught military regulations,
they learn the significance of the different stars and insignia on their
officers' shoulder boards. At the end of the month they fire their own
weapons for the first time and then they are paraded to swear the oath of
allegiance, knowing that any infringement of this will be heavily punished,
even, perhaps, with the death-sentence. After this the recruit is considered
to have become a real soldier. The training detachment is disbanded and the
recruits are distributed among the companies and batteries.
Socialists make the lying claim that it is possible to create a
classless society. In fact, if a number of people are thrown together, it is
certain that a leading group, or perhaps several groups, will emerge--in
other words different classes. This has nothing to do with race, religion or
political beliefs. It will always happen, in every situation of this sort.
If a group of survivors were to reach an uninhabited island after a
shipwreck and you were able to take a look at them after they had been there
only a week, you would undoubtedly find that a leader or leading group had
already emerged. In the German concentration camps, no matter what sort of
people were imprisoned together, they would always establish themselves in
stratified societies, with higher and lower classes.
The division into leaders and followers occurs automatically. Take a
group of children and ask them to put up a tent; do not put one of them in
charge but stand aside and watch them. Within five minutes a leader will
A group of short-haired recruits nervously enters an enormous barrack
room, in which two, three or even five hundred soldiers live. They quickly
come to realise that they have entered a class-dominated society. Communist
theory has no place here. The sergeants split the young soldiers up by
platoons, detachments and teams. At first everything goes normally--here is
your bed, this is your bedside locker in which you can keep your
washing-kit, your four manuals, brushes and your handbook of scientific
communism and nothing else. Understand? Yes, sergeant.
But at night the barrack-room comes alive. The recruits need to
understand that it contains four classes--the soldiers who will be leaving
the army in six months, those who will go after a year, a third class who
have eighteen months still to serve and, lastly, they themselves, who have a
full two years to go. The higher castes guard their privileges jealously.
The lower castes must acknowledge their seniors as their elders and betters,
the seniors refer to inferiors as `scum'. Those who still have eighteen
months to serve are the superiors of the new recruits, but scum, naturally,
to those who have only a year to go.
The night after the new intake has arrived is a terrible one in every
barracks: the naked recruits are flogged with belts, and ridden, bareback,
by their seniors, who use them as horses to fight cavalry battles and then
they are driven out to sleep in the lavatories while their beds are fouled
by their elders and betters.
Their commanders know what is going on, of course, but they do not
interfere; it is in their interests that the other ranks should be divided
among themselves by barriers of real hatred.
The lowest class have no rights whatsoever. They, the scum, clean the
shoes and make the beds of their seniors, clean their weapons for them, hand
over their meat and sugar rations, sometimes even their bread to them. The
soldiers who are soon to be released appropriate the recruits' new uniforms,
leaving them with their own worn-out ones. If you are in command of a
platoon or a company you are quite content with the situation. You order
your sergeants to get something done--digging tank pits, for instance. The
sergeants give the senior soldiers this job to do and they in turn hand it
on to the scum. You can be confident that everything will be finished in
good time. The senior soldiers will do nothing themselves but they will make
each of the scum do enough for two or three men. You can take your sergeants
off into the bushes and hand out your cigarettes; whatever you do, don't
fuss. Wait until someone comes to report that the job has been done. This is
your moment: appear like the sun from behind the clouds, and thank the
senior soldiers for their hard work. I assure you--both the senior soldiers
and the scum will love you for it....
Six months pass and a new consignment of scum joins your sub-unit. Now
those who suffered yesterday have a chance to vent their rage on someone.
All the humiliations and insults which they have suffered for six months can
now be heaped on the newcomers. Meanwhile those who still insult and beat
them up continue to be regarded as scum by their own superiors.
These are the circumstances in which a soldier begins to master the
rudiments of the science of war.
`Roll on my demob!' `I wish you all a speedy demob--make sure you
deserve it!' They've taken everything else away, but they can't take my
demob!' `Demobilization is as inevitable as the collapse of capitalism.'
These are sentences you will see scribbled on the wall of any soldiers'
lavatory. They are cleaned off every day but they are soon back again, in
paint which is still wet.
Demobilization comes after two years' service. It is the day-dream of
every soldier and NCO. From the moment a recruit joins the army, he begins
to cross off the days to his demob. He lists the days left on the inside of
his belt or ticks them off on a board, a wall, or on the side of his tank's
engine compartment. In any military camp, on the backs of the portraits of
Marx, Lenin, Brezhnev, Andropov and Ustinov you will find scores of
inscriptions such as `103 Sundays left to my demob', accompanied by the
appropriate number of marks, carefully ticked off one by one in ink or
pencil. Or `730 dinners to my demob' and more marks. Or, frequently `17,520
hours to my demob' or, even more often, `1,051,200 minutes to my demob'.
A soldier's day is split up into a number of periods of so many minutes
each and this makes it most convenient for him to calculate in minutes. The
Soviet soldier reckons that his day lasts just a little bit longer than it
does for any other inhabitant of the planet, so in his calculations he
reckons that a day contains 1,441 minutes--a minute longer than it does for
the rest of us.
A minute is the most convenient division of time for him, although he
has to count in seconds, too.
The soldier's second day-dream, after his demobilization, is to be
allowed to sleep for 600 minutes. Theoretically, he is allowed 480 minutes
for sleep. Of course, one of the scum gets only half this: as he moves into
a higher caste and becomes more senior he sleeps longer and longer. A month
before his demobilization a senior soldier hangs a note above his bed `Do
Not Tilt! To be Carried Out First In Case Of Fire.'
Reveille is at 0600 hours. Wake up, jump out of bed, trousers and boots
on, run outside for a rapid visit to the lavatory, sprint to the door, which
is jammed with people, another sprint and you are on the road outside, past
the sergeants who are lying in wait for the `last on parade'. By 0605 the
company is already moving briskly along the roads of the military camp. In
rain and wind, in hail and snow--just boots and trousers, chests bare.
Running and PT until 0640--35 minutes of really hard physical exercise.
Then the company goes back to the barrack-room with 20 minutes to wash
and make beds. During this time the scum have to make both their own beds
and those of the senior soldiers. At 0700 there is morning inspection; the
sergeant-major spends half an hour on a rigorous check of the company's
general tidiness, haircuts, contents of pockets, etc. After this, the
company falls in and moves off, bawling a song and marching in time to it,
to the dining hall. An attentive observer would notice that the number of
soldiers in the company is now greater by a quarter than it was during the
PT parade. Actually, when the orderly first shouted, `Company. On your
feet!' at reveille, by no means everyone jumped hastily out of bed. The most
senior of the soldiers, those with only six months to go before their demob,
get up unwillingly and slowly, stretching, swearing quietly to themselves,
not joining in the rush to the lavatory or tearing off to the parade. While
the rest of the company marches round the corner, they go quietly about
their own affairs. One may stretch out under his bed to sleep for another
half hour, others doze behind the long row of greatcoats, which hang from
pegs by the wall, and the rest may tuck themselves away somewhere at the
back of the barrack-room by a warm pipe from the furnace-room. Whatever they
choose to do, they don't turn out for PT with the rest of the company. They
keep an eye out for the patrolling duty officers, quietly changing their
hiding places if he approaches. Eventually they go and wash, leaving their
beds to be made by the scum.
The Soviet Army serves a meagre breakfast. A soldier is allowed 20
grammes of butter a day, but since, theoretically, 10 of these are used for
cooking, there are only 10 grammes on his plate. With this, for breakfast,
he receives two slices of black bread, one of white, a bowl of kasha and a
mug of tea, with one lump of sugar.
Butter and sugar are used as a sort of currency, with which to placate
one's seniors for yesterday's mistakes or for some piece of disrespectful
behaviour. They are also used as stakes for bets so that many of the
soldiers have to hand over their breakfast butter or sugar--or both--to
those who have been luckier than them at guessing the results of football or
There is not much bread, either, but if a soldier somehow manages to
get hold of an extra slice, he will always try to make his tiny portion of
butter cover it too, so that it is bread and butter rather than just bread
that he is eating. Several soldiers from my company once spent a day working
in the bakery and, of course, they helped themselves to a few loaves, which
they shared with the other members of their platoon. Each of them had ten or
fifteen slices of bread to spread his butter on and was able to eat as much
as he wanted, for the first time for months. But there was very little
butter indeed for each slice. I was not far away, and, seeing how they were
enjoying themselves, I went over and asked how they could tell which of the
slices had butter on them. They laughed and one held a piece of bread above
his head and gently tilted it towards the sun. The answer became clear--a
slice on which there was even the smallest scraping of butter reflected the
At 0800 hours there is a regimental parade. The deputy regimental
commander presents the regiment for inspection by the commander. Then the
day's training, which lasts for seven hours, begins. The first hour is a
review period, during which officers from the regimental or divisional
staffs test the extent to which officers, NCOs and soldiers are ready to
proceed with the forthcoming day's work. Soldiers are questioned on what
they learned during the previous day, what training they received and what
they have memorized. For me, as for any commander, this was a most
uncomfortable hour. During this review period, too, orders by senior
commanders from regimental level up to that of the Minister of Defence
himself are read out, together with the sentences imposed on the previous
day by Soviet Army military tribunals--outlines of cases involving five to
ten years' imprisonment, and sometimes death sentences.
If the review period ends early, the rest of the hour is used for
drill. After this come three periods, each of two hours. During these each
platoon works in accordance with a training schedule which covers the
Weapons of mass destruction and
Defence against these
The number of hours spent on each subject varies considerably,
depending on the arm of service and the Armed Service in which the soldiers
are serving. However, the general plan of work is the same everywhere--a
review period, drill and then six hours of work on the subjects listed above
in accordance with individually arranged training schedules.
Ninety-five per cent of all work, except for political training, is
done out of doors, rather than in classrooms--in the open country on ranges,
in tank training areas, in tank depots, etc. All periods, except for
political training, involve physical work, which is often very strenuous.
For instance, tactical training may involve six hours digging trenches
in blazing sun or in a hard frost, high-speed crossings of rivers, ravines,
ditches and barricades, rapid erection of camouflage--and everything is done
at the double. Instruction in tactics is always given without equipment.
Thus, a tank crew is told to imagine that they are in a tank, attacking the
enemy `on the edge of the wood over there'. Having run to the wood, the crew
returns and the tank commander explains the mistakes they made--they should
have attacked not on the crest of the hill but in the gully. Now, once
again... Using this system of instruction, you can quickly teach a crew, who
may be unable to understand complicated explanations, how an enemy should be
attacked, and how to use every hollow in the ground to protect their own
tank in battle. If they don't, well they just run off again, and again, and
again for the whole six hours if necessary.
Weapon training involves study of weapons and of combat equipment. But
you should not imagine that a platoon sits in a classroom, while the
instructor describes the construction of tanks, guns and armoured personnel
The sergeant shows a young soldier an assault rifle. This is your
personal weapon. You strip it like this. You are allowed 15 seconds to do
this. I will show you and then we will practise it--do it again--and
again--now do it with this blindfold. And again... This is our tank. It
carries 40 shells, each of which weighs between 21 and 32 kilogrammes,
according to type. All the shells are to be loaded from these containers
through this hatch into the tank's ammunition store. You've got 23 minutes
to do this. Go! Now do it again--and again--and again.
Any process, from changing a tank's tracks or its engine to running in
rubber protective clothing during CW training, is always learned by
practical experience and practised again and again until it becomes entirely
automatic, every day, every night for two years. So many seconds are allowed
for each part of the operation. Make sure you do it this time: if you don't
you'll have to practise it again and again and again, at night, on Sundays,
on Sunday nights.
Exceptional physical strain is put upon Soviet soldiers. During his
first days in the army a young recruit loses weight, then, despite the
revolting food, he begins to put it on, not as fat, but as muscle. He starts
to walk differently, with his shoulders back, a mischievous twinkle appears
in his eye and he begins to acquire self-confidence. After six months, he
begins to develop considerable aggression, and to dominate the scum. In his
battles with the latter, he wins not only because of tradition, or the
support of his seniors, his NCOs and officers--he is also physically
stronger than they are. He knows that recruits coming into the army are far
weaker than he is--he has six months of service behind him. Within a year he
has become a real fighting-man.
A Soviet soldier is forced to adapt to circumstances. His body needs
rest and he will find a thousand ways to get it. He learns to sleep in any
position and in the most unlikely places. Don't ever think of giving an
audience of Soviet soldiers a lecture with any theory in it--they would fall
asleep at your very first words.
At 1500 hours the platoon, exhausted and dripping with sweat, returns
from training, and tidies itself up. Hastily, everyone cleans boots, washes,
puts things right--at the double, all the time. Dinner parade--they march
off, singing, to the dining hall and spend 30 minutes there over disgusting,
thin soup, semi-rotten potatoes with over-salted fish and three slices of
bread. Hurry, hurry. `Company, on your feet! Fall in!' Dinner is over. They
march off, singing, to the barrack-room. From 1600 to 1800 they clean
weapons, service equipment, clean the barracks and tidy the surrounding
area. From 1800 to 2000 `self-tuition'. This means training which is devised
not by the divisional staff but by the sergeants. `50 press-ups. Now do it
again... You didn't make much of a job of loading those shells. Try it
again... Now once more... The time you took to run three kilometres in your
respirator was poor. Go and do it again.'
From 2000 to 2030--supper. Kasha or potatoes, two slices of bread, tea,
a lump of sugar. `Butter?--you had that this morning.' After supper a
soldier has 30 minutes of free time. Write a letter home, read a paper, sew
up a senior soldier's collar-lining for tomorrow's inspection, clean his
boots until they gleam, iron his trousers.
At 2100 hours there is a formal battalion, regimental or divisional
parade. Evening roll-call, a run-through of the time-table for tomorrow and
of the results of today's training, more sentences imposed by military
tribunals and then an evening stroll. This takes the form of 30 minutes of
drill, with time kept by drum-beat, and training songs, yelled out by
several thousand voices. At 2145 the soldier reaches the barracks again,
washes, cleans his teeth, polishes and cleans everything for next morning.
At 2200--lights out. For those, that is, who are not on night exercises. The
timetable makes provision for 9 hours of night training each week. No
allowance is made for loss of sleep. These night exercises can, of course,
go on for any length of time. And those who are not on night exercises may
be got out of bed at any moment by a practice alert.
Saturday is a working-day in the Soviet Army. What makes it different
from other days of the week is that the soldiers have a film-show in the
evening. No--not about James Bond, but about Lenin or Brezhnev.
Sunday is a rest-day. So reveille is at 0700 hours, instead of 0600.
Then, as always, morning toilet, PT, breakfast. And then free time. This is
what the political officer has been waiting for. There is one of these
`Zampolits', as they are called, in each company, battalion, regiment and so
on. The Zampolit can only work with the soldiers on Sundays, so his whole
energy is devoted to that day. He arranges tug-of-war competitions and
football matches--more running! He also gives lectures about how bad things
were before the Revolution, how good life is nowadays, how the peoples of
the world groan under the yoke of capitalism and how important it is to work
hard to free them. In some regiments the soldiers are allowed to sleep after
dinner. And how they sleep--all of them! On a bright sunny Sunday,
sometimes, a division looks like a land of the dead. Only very occasionally
is a single figure--the duty officer-to be seen walking around. The silence
is astonishing and unimaginable at any other time. Even the birds stop
The soldiers sleep on. They are tired. But the Zampolits are not tired.
They have been resting all week and now they are bustling about, wondering
what to organise next for the soldiers. How about a cross-country run?
Sunday does not belong to the Soviet soldier, and so he reckons,
reasonably enough, that this day, too, lasts 1,441 minutes instead of 1,440.
Day After Day
Practice makes perfect. This is a wise saying, which the Soviet Army
Accordingly, during his service every soldier goes through the same
cycle of instruction four times.
Each of these lasts for five months, with one month as a break before
the next one begins. During this interval, the soldiers who have completed
their service are demobilized and the new intake arrives. In this month the
recruits go through their Young Soldier's Course: the remainder overhaul and
repair equipment and weapons, and do maintenance work at barracks, camps and
firing-ranges. They are also used for various sorts of heavy work. This is
not always for the Armed Forces; sometimes they become labourers on State
projects. Then the five-month cycle of instruction begins. All the subjects
in the training schedule are covered but during the first month the emphasis
is on the individual training of each soldier. The youngest ones learn what
they need to know and do, while the older ones repeat everything for the
second, third or fourth time. As a soldier's service lengthens, the demands
he must meet increase. A soldier who has only just joined may be required to
do, for instance, 30 press-ups, one who has served for 6 months 40, after a
year he will have to do 45 and after 18 months 50. The standards required
increase similarly in every type of activity--shooting, running, driving
military vehicles, resistance to CW materials, endurance without an
air-supply in a tank under water, etc.
In the second month, while work continues on the improvement of
individual skills, sections, crews and military teams are set up. In reality
they exist already, since 75% of their members are soldiers who have already
served in them for at least six months. The young recruits adapt quickly,
for they are made to do the work for the whole team: the older members do
not exert themselves but they squeeze enough sweat for ten out of the new
arrivals so as o avoid being accused of idleness themselves and in order not
to incur the wrath of their platoon or regimental commander.
From the second month, weapon training is no longer individual but to
whole sections. Similarly, the sections, teams and other basic combat units
receive all their tactical, technical and other instruction as groups. At
the same time, members of these sections, teams and groups learn how to
replace one another and how to stand in for their commanders. Sub-machine
gunners practise firing machine-guns and grenade launchers, machine gunners
learn to drive and service armoured personnel carriers, members of rocket
launcher teams are taught how to carry out the duties of their section
commander. Members of tank, gun, mortar and rocket-launcher crews receive
The third month is devoted to perfecting unit and in particular platoon
cohesion. Exercises lasting for several days, field firing, river crossing,
negotiation of obstacles, anti-gas and anti-radiation treatment of personnel
and equipment--the soldiers carry all these out as platoons. During these
exercises, section commanders receive practice in commanding a platoon in
battle. Then come field firing and other practical exercises lasting for two
weeks each, first at company, then at regimental and finally at divisional
level. Two final weeks are taken up with large-scale manoeuvres, involving
Armies, Fronts or even complete Strategic Directions.
After this an inspection of all the formations which make up the Soviet
Army is carried out. Checks are carried out on individual soldiers,
sergeants, officers, generals, sections, platoons, companies, batteries,
battalions, regiments, brigades, divisions and Armies. With this the cycle
of instruction is completed. A month is set aside for repair and
refurbishing of equipment, firing-ranges, training grounds and training
centres. In this month, again, the demobilization of time-expired soldiers
and the reception of a new intake of recruits takes place. This is followed
by a repetition of the entire training cycle--individual instruction and
then the welding together of sections, platoons, companies, battalions,
regiments, divisions, then the large-scale exercises and finally the
inspection. So it goes on, over and over again.
Why does a soldier need to read a map?
Most Soviet soldiers do not know how to read a map. This is the
absolute truth. They are just not taught to do so. What is more, there is no
intention that they should learn, since it is not considered necessary.
In the West you can buy a map at any petrol station. In the USSR any
map with more than a certain amount of detail on it is classified as a
secret document. If you lose a single sheet of a map you can be put in
prison for a long time--not a luxurious Western prison, but something quite
The fact that maps are regarded as secret gives the Soviet command a
number of important advantages. In the event of a war on Soviet territory an
enemy would have considerable difficulty in directing his artillery fire, or
his aircraft, or in planning operations in general. Thus, in 1941, the
German command had to use pre-revolutionary maps, printed in 1897, to plan
its air raids on Moscow. From time to time single Soviet maps fell into the
hands of German troops, but this only occurred accidentally so the maps were
unlikely to be consecutive sheets. When the Germans entered Soviet
territory, it was noticeable that the accuracy of their artillery fire from
covered fire positions fell off sharply. They were unable to use their V-1
and V-2 rockets.
By making the map a secret document the Communists achieved something
else--attempting to flee from the Soviet paradise without a map is a fairly
risky undertaking. On one occasion a Soviet soldier swam across the Elbe
near Winterberg and asked for political asylum. When he was asked if he had
any secrets to disclose he revealed that he had spent the last eighteen
months painstakingly gathering every crumb of information he could lay his
hands on. He was carefully questioned and was then sentenced to death and
shot. He had swum the Elbe at the wrong point and had fallen into the hands
of the East German frontier guards, who had questioned him, in broken
Russian, at the request of their Soviet comrades. If he had swum across the
Elbe a few kilometres further north he would have landed safely in West
Germany--if, that is, he had avoided treading on mines or being torn to
pieces by guard dogs.
In the Soviet Army there are, it is true, hundreds of thousands of
soldiers who have been instructed in map-reading. But they are only those
who would need to use a map in battle--reconnaissance and assault troops,
SPETSNAZ diversionary troops, topographers, missile control operators,
aircrew, artillerymen, etc.
An ordinary tank crew member or infantry soldier does not need a map.
He does not take operational decisions, he obeys them. Remember Soviet
tactical theory--no battalion, no regiment, division or Army advances
independently. Even a Front can only operate independently in exceptional
circumstances. A Soviet offensive is a massive avalanche of tanks, supported
by a storm of artillery fire. All this is directed at a single, narrow
sector of the enemy's front. Individual initiative could ruin the overall
plan. In many cases, regimental and divisional commanders have no authority
to deviate from the route they have been ordered to follow. In this
situation an ordinary soldier does not need a map. His function is to keep
his weapons and equipment in good order and to use them skilfully, to
advance bravely and with determination in the direction indicated by his
commander, and to push forward at all costs and whatever the losses. The
Soviet soldier is not expected to pore over a map--there are any number of
others who are doing that--but to refuel a tank quickly, to unload
ammunition as fast as he can, to aim accurately and to fire cold-bloodedly.
His task is to work as fast as he can, repairing damage to his personal
weapons or changing rollers or tracks on tanks, putting out fires, driving
his tank under water towards the enemy's shore. He must go without sleep for
three days and without food for five, he must sleep in the snow in his
shabby greatcoat and carry out the orders of his commander unquestioningly.
The Soviet Army teaches him to do all this. But it only teaches map reading
to those who will command and direct this soldier.
Those who built the Great Pyramids were probably not particularly well
educated and often they probably did not even understand each other, since
slaves had been driven together from distant areas to build the huge
structures. But the pyramids turned out none the worse for that. The slaves
were not expected to carry out intricate calculations or to make precise
measurements: all that was required from them was obedience and diligence,
submission to the lash and willingness to sacrifice themselves in order that
some unknown but most desirable aim should be achieved. Soviet generals
adopt a similar position--surely it is not necessary to involve every slave
in plans of such enormous complexity. Soviet generals are not arrogant; they
are completely satisfied with a soldier who, even if he cannot read a map,
does not strike, does not set up trades unions, does not pass judgement on
the actions of his commanders and only gets his hair cut when a sergeant
tells him to.
Inside the Soviet Army (V)