Communist-style incentives at work

Friday, February 9th, 2018

While we were recently discussing flawed incentive systems, David Foster brought up some Communist examples:

There’s an old story about a Soviet-era factory that made bathtubs. Plant management was measured on the total tonnage of output produced–and valves & faucets don’t add much to the weight, certainly not compared with the difficulty of manufacturing them. So the factory simply made and shipped thousands of bathtubs, without valves or faucets.

He notes that the above story may be apocryphal. The version I heard involved cars and people stealing each other’s windshield wipers.

He continues with a more spectacular example from Viktor Suvorov, who was working on a communal farm in Russia, when the General Secretary of the Party announced that they needed to increase their output, and the fertilizer plant resolved to do its part:

A vast meeting, thousands strong, complete with brass bands, speeches, placards, and banners, was urgently called at the local Chemical Combine. To a man, they shouted slogans, applauded, chanted patriotic songs. After that meeting, a competitive economy drive was launched at the Chemical Combine to harvest raw materials and energy resources.

The heroic efforts of the factory workers filled the plant’s storage tanks to capacity, and the local communes had 24 hours to take possession of their liquid fertilizer:

There was a long queue of trucks of different makes, dimensions, and colours standing outside the Chemical Combine. But the queue was moving fast. I soon discovered that lorries, which had only a moment before been loaded, were already returning and taking up new places in the queue. Every one of these lorries ostensibly needed many hours to deliver its valuable load to its destination and then to return. But they rejoined the queue in a matter of minutes. Then came my turn. My tanks were rapidly filled with the foul-smelling liquid, and the man in charge marked down on his list that my native kolkhoz had just received the first one and a half tons of fertilizer. I drove my lorry out through the Combine’s gates and followed the group of lorries which had loaded up before mine. All of them, as if at a word of command, turned off the road and descended a steep slope toward the river Dneiper. I did the same. In no time at all, they had emptied their tanks. I did the same. Over the smooth surface of the great river, the cradle of Russian civilization, slowly spread a huge poisonous, yellow, stinking stain.

Foster warns us not to get too smug though. If you read the whole thing, he has an example of capitalist stupidity, too.

Aiding the Enemy of My Enemy

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Alexander Boot recently described D-Day as splendid, glorious, heroic, sacrificial — and terribly wrong, based in part on Viktor Suvorov‘s contention that the Soviet Union was planning a massive invasion of Europe.

Of course, building up an army to invade German-occupied Europe looks an awful lot like building up an army to defend against a likely German invasion.

Boot contends that the Soviets were planning on attacking the Germans before the Germans attacked them — which, again, sounds perfectly plausible — until the Finns delivered an unsettling reality check. The Red Army may have been big, but it wasn’t any good — not yet.

Just as important was the fact that the Germans did not have to fight a long and bloody war on the Western Front. No one expected them to take out the French in one month. The French certainly didn’t expect it. The British didn’t. Neither did the Germans. It’s not hard to imagine the Soviets waiting for the French and British to bleed the Germans dry before stepping in — and then demanding that the British somehow reopen a second front.

Looking back at how the war played out — with the Soviets defeating the Nazis, conquering Eastern Europe for themselves, and then becoming our Cold War enemy — it’s hard to see why we were so quick to offer them so much aid.

Part of our motivation came from the fact that our leadership was surprisingly pro-Communist. Many of our top men — Harry Dexter White, Alger Hiss, Harry Hopkins — were literally Soviet agents.

Just as important though was everyone’s recent memory of how Russia performed in the last war — it collapsed — in light of how unstoppable the modern German military seemed.

So, early in the war, when the Nazis look strong, and the Soviets look weak, it makes sense for the US (and Britain) to offer aid and open up a second front, to keep the Soviets in the war.  Ideally, the other Allies then let the Nazis and Soviets bleed each other dry.

That’s not what happened, of course, and the US had to find a way to get onto the continent and get to Germany before the Soviets rolled through and seized everything.  Was invading Normandy the way to do that?

Europe Topography Map

If you look at a topographical map of Europe, it does not have a soft underbelly. You can immediately see how a Reich might extend from northern France, through Germany, to the Urals.

Europe Under Nazi Domination

(It also looks like there should be a Hungarian Empire and a Padanian nation.)

In 1942, Churchill called Italy the soft underbelly of the axis, not because the mountainous terrain would be easy to invade, but because Italy would be comparatively easy to knock out of the war, and this would grant the Allies control of the Mediterranean. It was also supposed to tie down German forces.

It’s not clear at all to me how the Allies were supposed to land and approach Berlin without a heroic effort. Of course, it’s not at all clear why FDR called for unconditional surrender and why we cut off the option of a separate peace.

Strategic Deception

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

The Soviet Union used Western pacifists for its own purposes:

A fictitious pacifist movement has been set up in the Soviet Union and Professor Chazov, the personal physician of the General Secretary of the Communist Party, has been made head of it. There are some who say that the movement is controlled by the Soviet leadership through the person of Chazov. Chazov, in addition to being responsible for the health of the General Secretary, is a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, i.e. one of the leaders who has real power in his hands. There are very few people who can manipulate him.

The mighty machinery of the GUSM [Chief Directorate of Strategic Deception] was brought into operation in order to give this Communist leader some publicity. General Moshe Milshtein himself arrived in London in April 1982 to attend a conference of doctors opposed to nuclear warfare. There were many questions that had to be put to the general. What did he have to do with medicine? Where had he served, in what regiments and divisions? Where had he come by his genuine English accent? Did all Soviet generals speak such good English? And were all Soviet generals allowed to travel to Great Britain and conduct pacifist propaganda, or was it a privilege granted to a select few?

The result of this publicity stunt by the GUSM is well known — the ‘pacifist’ Chazov, who has never once been known to condemn the murder of children in Afghanistan or the presence of Soviet troops in Czechoslovakia, and who persecutes opponents of Communism in the USSR, received the Nobel Prize.

No soldier should be afraid of blood

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

No soldier should be afraid of blood — especially not a spetsnaz commando:

It used to be thought that a soldier could be accustomed to the sight of blood gradually — first a little blood and then more day by day. But experts have thrown out this view. The spetsnaz soldier’s first encounter with blood should be, they argue, quite unexpected and in copious quantities. In the course of his career as a fighting man there will be a whole lot of monstrous things which will spring up in front of him without any warning at all. So he should get used to being unsurprised at anything and afraid of nothing.

A group of young spetsnaz soldiers are hauled out of bed at night because of an emergency, and sent in pursuit of a ‘spy’. The worse the weather the better. Best of all when there is torrential rain, a gusty wind, mud and slush. Many kilometres of obstacles — broken-down stairs, holes in walls, ropes across holes and ditches. The platoon of young soldiers are completely out of breath, their hearts beating fast. Their feet slip, their hands are scratched and bruised. Forward! Everyone is bad-tempered — the officers and especially the men. The soldier can give vent to his anger only by punching some weaker fellow-sufferer in the face and maybe getting a kick in the ribs in reply. The area is dotted with ruined houses, everything is smashed, ripped apart, and there’s broken glass everywhere. Everything is wet and slippery, and there are never-ending obstacles with searchlights trained on them. But they don’t help: they only hinder, blinding the men as they scramble over.

Now they come to a dark cellar, with the doors ripped off the hinges. Everybody down. Along the corridor. Then there’s water ahead. The whole group running at full tilt without slowing down rushes straight into some sticky liquid. A blinding light flashes on. It’s not water they are in — it’s blood. Blood up to the knees, the waist, the chest. On the walls and the ceiling are chunks of rotten flesh, piles of bleeding entrails. The steps are slippery from slimy bits of brain. Undecided, the young soldiers jam the corridor.

Then somebody in the darkness lets a huge dog off its chain. There is only one way out — through the blood. Only forwards, where there is a wide passageway and a staircase upwards. Where on earth could they get so much blood? From the slaughter-house, of course. It is not so difficult to make the tank of blood. It can be narrow and not very deep, but it must be twisting and there must be a very low ceiling over it. The building in which the tank of blood is arranged can be quite small, but piles of rotten boards, beams and concrete slabs must be tipped into it. Even in very limited space it is possible to create the impression that you are in an endless labyrinth overflowing with blood. The most important thing is to have plenty of twists and turns, holes, gaps, dead ends and doors.
And there’s something else: the tank of blood must not be the final obstacle that night. The greatest mistake is to drive the men through the tank and then bring the exercise to an end, leaving them to clean themselves up and go to bed. In that case the blood will only appear to them as a terrible dream. Keep driving them on over more and more obstacles.

He is no good for spetsnaz!

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Soviet battle training is based on some very Soviet experiences:

They have established that in the past training had been carried out incorrectly, on the principle of moving from the simple to the more difficult. A soldier was first taught to jump from a low level, to pack his parachute, to land properly, and so forth, with the prospect later of learning to make a real parachute jump. But the longer the process of the initial training was drawn out, the longer the soldier was made to wait, the more he began to fear making the jump. Experience acquired in previous wars also shows that reservists, who were trained for only a few days and then thrown into battle, in the majority of cases performed very well. They were sometimes short of training, but they always had enough courage. The reverse was also shown to be true. In the First World War the best Russian regiments stayed in Saint Petersburg. They protected the Emperor and they were trained only to be used in the most critical situations. The longer the war went on, the less inclined the guards regiments became to fight. The war dragged on, turned into a senseless carve-up, and finally the possibility arose of a quick end to it. To bring the end nearer the Emperor decided to make use of his guards….

The Revolution of 1917 was no revolution. It was simply a revolt by the guards in just one city in a huge empire. The soldiers no longer wanted to fight; they were afraid of war and did not want to die for nothing. Throughout the country there were numerous parties all of which were in favour of ending the war, and only one of them called for peace. The soldiers put their trust in that party. Meanwhile, the regiments that were fighting at the front had suffered enormous losses and their morale was very low, but they had not thought of dispersing to their homes. The front collapsed only when the central authority in Saint Petersburg collapsed.

Lenin’s party, which seized power in that vast empire by means of the bayonets of terrified guards in the rear, drew the correct conclusions. Today soldiers are not kept for long in the rear and they don’t spend much time in training. It is judged much wiser to throw the young soldier straight into battle, to put those who remain alive into the reserve, reinforce with fresh reservists, and into battle again. The title of ‘guards’ is then granted only in the course of battle, and only to those units that have suffered heavy losses but kept fighting.

Spetsnaz training takes this to the next level:

The most important feature of the training of a young spetsnaz soldier is not to give him time to reflect about what is ahead for him. He should come up against danger and terror and unpleasantness unexpectedly and not have time to be scared. When he overcomes this obstacle, he will be proud of himself, of his own daring, determination and ability to take risks. And subsequently he will not be afraid.

Unpleasant surprises are always awaiting the spetsnaz soldier in the first stage of his service, sometimes in the most unlikely situations. He enters a classroom door and they throw a snake round his neck. He is roused in the morning and leaps out of bed to find, suddenly, an enormous grey rat in his boot. On a Saturday evening, when it seems that a hard week is behind him, he is grabbed and thrown into a small prison cell with a snarling dog. The first parachute jump is also dealt with unexpectedly. A quite short course of instruction, then into the sky and straight away out of the hatch. What if he smashes himself up? The answer, as usual: he is no good for spetsnaz!

Later the soldier receives his full training, both theoretical and practical, including ways to deal with a snake round his neck or a rat in his boot. But by then the soldier goes to his training classes without any fear of what is to come, because the most frightful things are already behind him.

Preserve Their Illusions

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Soviet military intelligence followed a simple game plan toward terrorists:

The GRU’s tactics toward terrorists are simple: never give them any orders, never tell them what to do. They are destroying Western civilisation: they know how to do it, the argument goes, so let them get on with it unfettered by petty supervision. Among them there are idealists ready to die for their own ideas. So let them die for them. The most important thing is to preserve their illusion that they are completely free and independent.


Sunday, February 6th, 2011

When Viktor Suvorov was beginning his military service, he was taught to count every round:

Cartridges are metal and a lot of hard work. It is more difficult and more expensive to make a cartridge than to make a fountain pen. And another reason for being careful with ammunition is so that you are never without it at a critical moment. Supplying an army with ammunition is a complex logistical problem. If the transport carrying ammunition arrives even a few minutes after you have spent all your ammunition without thinking, then you are dead. But there are no such problems in Beirut. Nobody tells the conflicting groups what the ammunition costs. Nobody tells them the cost of the lives they cut off every day. Nobody mentions the danger that the regular supply of ammunition may be late. The suppliers are certain that it will not be late.

The Soviet Union condemns the civil war in the Lebanon. But there is no need for it to condemn the war. All it has to do is hold back the next transport of ammunition, and war will cease.

(He’s writing in the mid-1980s, of course.)

Real Secret Agents

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

If you read the real dossiers of secret agents used by Soviet military intelligence, you would likely be disappointed:

A portrait of an ideal agent for spetsnaz emerges something like this: a man of between fifty-five and sixty-five years of age who has never served in the army, never had access to secret documents, does not carry or own a weapon, knows nothing about hand-to-hand fighting, does not possess any secret equipment and doesn’t support the Comunists, does not read the newspapers, was never in the Soviet Union and has never met any Soviet citizens, leads a lonely, introspective life, far from other people, and is by profession a forester, fisherman, lighthouse-keeper, security guard or railwayman. In many cases such an agent will be a physical invalid. Spetsnaz is also on the lookout for women with roughly the same characteristics.

If spetsnaz has such a person in its network, that means: a. that he is certainly not under any suspicion on the part of the local police or security services; b. that in the event of any enquiries being made he will be the last person to be suspected; c. that there is practically nothing by which any suspicions could be confirmed, which in turn means that in peacetime the agent is almost totally guaranteed against the danger of failure or arrest; d. that in the event of war he will remain in the same place as he was in peacetime and not be taken into the army or the public service under the wartime mobilisation.

The principal task of such agents is to prepare a safe hiding place in advance, long before the commandos arrive in the country:

These are some examples of hiding places prepared by spetsnaz agents. With GRU money a pensioner who is actually a spetsnaz agent buys a house on the outskirts of a town, and close to a big forest. In the house he builds, quite legally, a nuclear shelter with electric light, drains, water supply and a store of food. He then buys a car of a semi-military or military type, a Land Rover for example, which is kept permanently in the garage of the house along with a good store of petrol. With that the agent’s work is done. He lives quietly, makes use of his country house and car, and in addition is paid for his services. He knows that at any moment he may have ‘guests’ in his house. But that doesn’t frighten him. In case of arrest he can say that the commando troops seized him as a hostage and made use of his house, his shelter and car.

Or, the owner of a car dump takes an old, rusty railway container and drops it among the hundreds of scrap cars and a few motorcycles. For the benefit of the few visitors to the scrapyard who come in search of spare parts, the owner opens a little shop selling Coca-Cola, hot dogs, coffee and sandwiches. He always keeps a stock of bottled mineral water, tinned fish, meat and vegetables. The little shop also stocks comprehensive medical supplies.

Or perhaps the owner of a small firm buys a large, though old yacht. He tells his friends that he dreams of making a long journey under sail, which is why the yacht always has a lot of stores aboard. But he has no time to make the trip; what’s more, the yacht is in need of repair which requires both time and money. So for the moment the old yacht lies there in a deserted bay among dozens of other abandoned yachts with peeling paint.

Large numbers of such places of refuge have been arranged. Places that can be used as shelters include caves, abandoned (or in some cases working) mines, abandoned industrial plants, city sewers, cemeteries (especially if they have family vaults), old boats, railway carriages and wagons, and so forth. Any place can be adapted as a shelter for the use of spetsnaz terrorists. But the place must be very well studied and prepared in advance. That is what the agents are recruited for.

These agents aren’t told that the spetsnaz commandos will destroy all traces of their work, including any witnesses.

Soviet Conscripts

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Soviet conscripts served for two years — not long by American professional-soldier standards:

I often hear it said that the Soviet soldier is a very bad soldier because he serves for only two years in the army. Some Western experts consider it impossible to produce a good soldier in such a short time.

It is true that the Soviet soldier is a conscript, but it must be remembered that he is conscript in a totally militarised country. It is sufficient to remember that even the leaders of the party in power in the Soviet Union have the military ranks of generals and marshals. The whole of Soviet society is militarised and swamped with military propaganda. From a very early age Soviet children engage in war games in a very serious way, often using real submachine guns (and sometimes even fighting tanks), under the direction of officers and generals of the Soviet Armed Forces.

Those children who show a special interest in military service join the Voluntary Society for Cooperation with the Army, Air Force and Fleet, known by its Russian initial letters as DOSAAF. DOSAAF is a para-military organisation with 15 million members who have regular training in military trades and engage in sports with a military application. DOSAAF not only trains young people for military service; it also helps reservists to maintain their qualifications after they have completed their service. DOSAAF has a colossal budget, a widespread network of airfields and training centres and clubs of various sizes and uses which carry out elementary and advanced training of military specialists of every possible kind, from snipers to radio operators, from fighter pilots to underwater swimmers, from glider pilots to astronauts, and from tank drivers to the people who train military doctors.

Many outstanding Soviet airmen, the majority of the astronauts (starting with Yuri Gagarin), famous generals and European and world champions in military types of sport began their careers in DOSAAF, often at the age of 14.

The men in charge of DOSAAF locally are retired officers, generals and admirals, but the men in charge at the top of DOSAAF are generals and marshals on active service. Among the best-known leaders of the society were Army-General A. L. Getman, Marshal of the Air Force A. I. Pokryshkin, Army-General D. D. Lelyushenko and Admiral of the Fleet G. Yegorov. Traditionally the top leadership of DOSAAF includes leaders of the GRU and spetsnaz. At the present time (1986), for example, the first deputy chairman of DOSAAF is Colonel-General A. Odintsev. As long ago as 1941 he was serving in a spetsnaz detachment on the Western Front. The detachment was under the command of Artur Sprogis. Throughout his life Odintsev has been directly connected with the GRU and terrorism. At the present time his main job is to train young people of both sexes for the ordeal of fighting a war. The most promising of them are later sent to serve in spetsnaz.

When we speak about the Soviet conscript soldiers, and especially those who were taken into spetsnaz, we must remember that each one of them has already been through three or four years of intensive military training, has already made parachute jumps, fired a sub-machine gun and been on a survival course. He has already developed stamina, strength, drive and the determination to conquer. The difference between him and a regular soldier in the West lies in the fact that the regular soldier is paid for his efforts. Our young man gets no money. He is a fanatic and an enthusiast. He has to pay himself (though only a nominal sum) for being taught how to use a knife, a silenced pistol, a spade and explosives.

After completing his service in spetsnaz the soldier either becomes a regular soldier or he returns to ‘peaceful’ work and in his spare time attends one of the many DOSAAF clubs. Here is a typical example: Sergei Chizhik was born in 1965. While still at school he joined the DOSAAF club. He made 120 parachute jumps. Then he was called into the Army and served with special troops in Afghanistan. He distinguished himself in battle, and completed his service in 1985. In May 1986 he took part in a DOSAAF team in experiments in surviving in Polar conditions. As one of a group of Soviet ‘athletes’ he dropped by parachute on the North Pole.

DOSAAF is a very useful organisation for spetsnaz in many ways. The Soviet Union has signed a convention undertaking not to use the Antarctic for military purposes. But in the event of war it will of course be used by the military, and for that reason the corresponding experience has to be gained. That is why the training for a parachute drop on the South Pole in the Antarctic is being planned out by spetsnaz but to be carried out by DOSAAF. The difference is only cosmetic: the men who make the jump will be the very same cut-throats as went through the campaigns in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. They are now considered to be civilians, but they are under the complete control of generals like Odintsev, and in wartime they will become the very same spetsnaz troops as we now label contemptuously ‘conscripts’.

Invited to Join Spetsnaz

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Viktor Suvorov shares a fictional interview of a young officer invited to join spetsnaz, the Soviet special forces:

Any young officer can be invited to join spetsnaz irrespective of his previous speciality in the armed forces. If he possesses the required qualities of an iron will, an air of unquestionable authority, ruthlessness and an independent way of taking decisions and acting, if he is by nature a gambler who is not afraid to take a chance with anything, including his own life, then he will eventually be invited to the headquarters of the military district. He will be led along the endless corridors to a little office where he will be interviewed by a general and some senior officers. The young officer will not of course know that the general is head of the Intelligence directorate of the military district or that the colonel next to him is head of the third department (spetsnaz) of the directorate.

The atmosphere of the interview is relaxed, with smiles and jokes on both sides. Tell us about yourself, lieutenant. What are your interests? What games do you play? You hold the divisional record on skis over ten kilometres? Very good. How did your men do in the last rifle-shooting test? How do you get along with your deputy? Is he a difficult chap? Uncontrolled character? Our information is that you tamed him. How did you manage it?’

The interview moves gradually on to the subject of the armed forces of the probable enemy and takes the form of a gentle examination.

‘You have an American division facing your division on the front. The American division has “Lance” missiles. A nasty thing?’

‘Of course, comrade general.’

‘Just supposing, lieutenant, that you were chief of staff of the Soviet division, how would you destroy the enemy’s missiles?’

‘With our own 9K21 missiles.’

‘Very good, lieutenant, but the location of the American missiles is not known.’

‘I would ask the air force to locate them and possibly bomb them.’

‘But there’s bad weather, lieutenant, and the anti-aircraft defences are strong.’

Then I would send forward from our division a deep reconnaissance company to find the missiles, cut the throats of the missile crew and blow up the missiles.’

‘Not a bad idea. Very good, in fact. Have you ever heard, lieutenant, that there are units in the American Army known as the “Green Berets”?’

‘Yes, I have heard.’

‘What do you think of them?’

‘I look at the question from two points of view — the political and the military.’

Tell us both of them, please.’

They are mercenary cut throats of American capitalism, looters, murderers and rapists. They burn down villages and massacre the inhabitants, women, children and old people.’

‘Enough. Your second point of view?’

‘They are marvellously well-trained units for operating behind the enemy’s lines. Their job is to paralyse the enemy’s system of command and control. They are a very powerful and effective instrument in the hands of commanders. . . .’

‘Very well. So what would you think, lieutenant, if we were to organise something similar in our army?’

‘I think, comrade general, that it would be a correct decision. I am sure, comrade general, that that is our army’s tomorrow.’

‘It’s the army’s today, lieutenant. What would you say if we were to offer you the chance to become an officer in these troops? The discipline is like iron. Your authority as a commander would be almost absolute. You would be the one taking the decisions, not your superiors for you.’

‘If I were to be offered such an opportunity, comrade general, I would accept.’

‘All right, lieutenant, now you can go back to your regiment. Perhaps you will receive an offer. Continue your service and forget this conversation took place. You realise, of course, what will happen to you if anybody gets to know about what we have discussed?’

‘I understand, comrade general.’

‘We have informed your commanding officers, including the regimental commander, that you came before us as a candidate for posting to the Chinese frontier — to Mongolia, Afghanistan, the islands of the Arctic Ocean that sort of thing. Goodbye for now, lieutenant.’

‘Goodbye, comrade general.’

Leadership Training in the Soviet Union

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

The heads of the GRU — Soviet military intelligence, in charge of spetsnaz, or special forces — considered special training necessary for every function — except that of leader:

A leader cannot be produced by even the best training scheme. A leader is born a leader and nobody can help him or advise him how to manage people. In this case advice offered by professors does not help; it only hinders. A professor is a man who has never been a leader and never will be, and nobody ever taught Hitler how to lead a nation. Stalin was thrown out of his theological seminary.

Marshal Georgi Zhukov, the outstanding military leader of the Second World War, had a million men, and often several million, under his direct command practically throughout the war. Of all the generals and marshals at his level he was the only one who did not suffer a single defeat in battle. Yet he had no real military education. He did not graduate from a military school to become a junior officer; he did not graduate from a military academy to become a senior officer; and he did not graduate from the Academy of General Staff to become a general and later a marshal. But he became one just the same.

There was Khalkhin-Gol, Yelnya, the counter-offensive before Moscow, Stalingrad, the lifting of the Leningrad blockade, Kursk, the crossing of the Dnieper, the Belorussian operation, and the Vistula-Oder and Berlin operations. What need had he of education? What could the professors teach him?

Soviet Military Athletes

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

The Soviet Union supported its “amateur” athletes by giving them military ranks:

The most successful, richest and largest society in the Soviet Union concerned with sport is the Central Army Sports Club (ZSKA). Members of the club have included 850 European champions, 625 world champions and 182 Olympic champions. They have set up 341 European and 430 world records. (All figures as of 1 January, 1979.)

Such results do not indicate that the Soviet Army is the best at training top-class athletes. This was admitted even by Pravda (2 September, 1985). The secret of success lies in the enormous resources of the Soviet Army. Pravda describes what happens: ‘It is sufficient for some even slightly promising boxer to come on the scene and he is immediately lured across to the ZSKA.’ As a result, out of the twelve best boxers in the Soviet Union ten are from the Army Club, one from Dinamo (the sports organisation run by the KGB), and one from the Trud sports club. But of those ten army boxers, not one was the original product of the Army club. They had all been lured away from other clubs — the Trudoviye reservy, the Spartak or the Burevestnik. The same thing happens in ice-hockey, parachute jumping, swimming and many other sports.

What may come as a surprise is that these military ranks weren’t simple sinocures:

[T]he Soviet Army needs an enormous number of people with exceptional athletic ability at Olympic level to carry out special missions behind the enemy’s lines. It is desirable that these people should be able to visit foreign countries in peace time. Sport makes that possible. As far as the athletes are concerned, they are grateful for a very rich club which can pay them well, provide them with cars and apartments, and arrange trips abroad for them. Moreover, they need the sort of club in which they can be regarded as amateurs, though they will work nowhere else but in the club.

Spetsnaz is the point where the interests of the state, the Soviet Army and military intelligence coincide with the interests of some individuals who want to devote their whole lives to sport.

There are no women in the usual spetsnaz units:

But in the professional sports units of spetsnaz women constitute about half the numbers. They engage in various kinds of sport: parachute jumping, gliding, flying, shooting, running, swimming, motocross, and so on. Every woman who joins spetsnaz has to engage in some associated forms of sport apart from her own basic sport, and among these are some that are obligatory, such as sambo, shooting and a few others. The woman have to take part in exercises along with the men and have to study the full syllabus of subjects necessary for operating behind the enemy’s lines.

That there should be such a high percentage of women in the professional sports formations of spetsnaz is a matter of psychology and strategy: if in the course of a war a group of tall, broadshouldered young men were to appear behind the lines this might give rise to bewilderment, since all the men are supposed to be at the front. But if in the same situation people were to see a group of athletic-looking girls there would be little likelihood of any alarm or surprise.

To succeed in war, you need to know the terrain:

A private in the average spetsnaz unit cannot, of course, visit the places where he is likely to have to fight in the event of war. But a top-class professional athlete does have the opportunity. The Soviet Army takes advantage of such opportunities.

For example, in 1984 the 12th world parachuting championship took place in France. There were altogether twenty-six gold medals to be competed for, and the Soviet team won twenty-two of them. The ‘Soviet team’ was in fact a team belonging to the armed forces of the USSR. It consisted of five men and five women: a captain, a senior praporshik, three praporshiki, a senior sergeant and four sergeants. The team’s trainer, its doctor and the whole of the technical personnel were Soviet officers. The Soviet reporter accompanying the team was a colonel. This group of ‘sportsmen’ spent time in Paris and in the south of France. A very interesting and very useful trip, and there were other Soviet officers besides -for example a colonel who was the trainer of the Cuban team.

Now let us suppose a war has broken out. The Soviet Army must neutralise the French nuclear capability. France is the only country in Europe, apart from the Soviet Union itself, that stores strategic nuclear missiles in underground silos. The silos are an extremely important target, possibly the most important in Europe. The force that will put them out of action will be a spetsnaz force. And who will the Soviet high command send to carry out the mission? The answer is that, after the world parachuting championship, they have a tailor-made team.

What was supposed to happen to Germany

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

The use of spetsnaz (special forces) in the Manchurian offensive of 1945 illustrates what was supposed to happen to Germany if she had not attacked the USSR:

Japan had a peace treaty with the Soviet Union. But Japan had gone to war with other states and had exhausted her military, economic and other resources. Japan had seized vast territories inhabited by hundreds of millions of people who wanted to be liberated and were ready to welcome and support any liberator who came along. Japan was in exactly the situation in which Stalin had wanted to see Germany: exhausted by war with other countries, and with troops scattered over expansive territories the populations of which hated the sight of them.

Thus, in the interests naturally of peace and humanity Stalin struck a sudden crushing blow at the armed forces of Japan in Manchuria and China, violating the treaty signed four years earlier. The operation took place over vast areas. In terms of the distances covered and the speed at which it moved, this operation has no equal in world history. Soviet troops operated over territories 5000 kilometres in width and 600-800 kilometres in depth. More than a million and a half soldiers took part in the operation, with over 5000 tanks and nearly 4000 aircraft. It really was a lightning operation, in the course of which 84,000 Japanese officers and men were killed and 593,000 taken prisoner. A tremendous quantity of arms, ammunition and other equipment was seized.

It may be objected that Japan was already on the brink of catastrophe. That is true. But therein lies Soviet strategy: to remain neutral until such time as the enemy exhausts himself in battle against someone else, and then to strike a sudden blow. That is precisely how the war against Germany was planned and that was why the partisan units, the barriers and defensive installations were all dispensed with, and why the ten airborne corps were created in 1941.

In the Manchurian offensive the spetsnaz detachments put up their best performance. Twenty airborne landings were made not by airborne troops, but by special reconnaissance troops. Spetsnaz units of the Pacific Fleet were landed from submarines and surface boats. Some spetsnaz units crossed the frontier by foot, captured Japanese cars and used them for their operations. Worried about the railway tunnels on a strip of the 1st Far Eastern front, the Soviet high command created special units for capturing the tunnels. The groups crossed the frontier secretly, cut the throats of the guards, severed the wires connected to the explosive charges, and put the detonators out of action. They then held the tunnels until their own forces arrived.

In the course of the offensive a new and very risky type of operation was employed by spetsnaz. Senior GRU officers, with the rank of colonel or even major-general, were put in charge of small groups. Such a group would suddenly land on an airfield close to an important Japanese headquarters. The appearance of a Soviet colonel or general deep in the Japanese rear never failed to provoke astonished reactions from both the Japanese high command and the Japanese troops, as well as from the local population. The transport planes carrying these were escorted by Soviet fighter aircraft, but the fighters were soon obliged to return to their bases, leaving the Soviet transport undefended until it landed. Even after it landed it had at best only one high-ranking officer, the crew and no more than a platoon of soldiers to guard over the plane. The Soviet officer would demand and usually obtain a meeting with a Japanese general, at which he would demand the surrender of the Japanese garrison. He and his group really had nothing to back them up: Soviet troops were still hundreds of kilometres away and it was still weeks to the end of the war. But the local Japanese military leaders (and the Soviet officers too, for that matter) naturally did not realise this. Perhaps the Emperor had decided to fight on to the last man…

In several recorded instances, senior Japanese military leaders decided independently to surrender without having permission to do so from their superiors. The improvement in the morale and position of the Soviet troops can be imagined.

Germany was the first target for revolution

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

After the Soviets solidified control over Russia, Germany was the first foreign target for revolution:

It is interesting to recall that, as early as December 1917, a Communist newspaper Die Fackel, was being published in Petrograd with a circulation of 500,000 copies. In January 1918 a Communist group called ‘Spartak’ emerged in the same place. In April 1918 another newspaper Die Weltrevolution, began to appear. And finally, in August 1919, the famous paper of the German Communists, Die Rote Fahne, was founded in Moscow.

At the same time as the first Communist groups appeared, steps were taken to train terrorist fighting units of German Communists. These units were used for suppressing the anti-Communist resistance put up by Russian and Ukrainian peasants. Then, in 1920, all the units of German Communists were gathered together in the rear of the Red Army on the Western front. That was when the Red Army was preparing for a breakthrough across Poland and into Germany. The Red Army’s official marching song, ‘Budenny’s March’, included these words: ‘We’re taking Warsaw — Take Berlin too!’

In that year the Bolsheviks did not succeed in organising revolution in Germany or even in ‘liberating’ Poland. At the time Soviet Russia was devastated by the First World War and by the far more terrible Civil War. Famine, typhus and destruction raged across the country. But in 1923 another attempt was made to provoke a revolution in Germany. Trotsky himself demanded in September 1923 to be relieved of all his Party and Government posts and to be sent as an ordinary soldier to the barricades of the German Revolution. The party did not send Trotsky there, but sent other Soviet Communist leaders, among them, Iosef Unshlikht. At the time he was deputy chairman of the Cheka secret police. Now he was appointed deputy head of the ‘registration administration’, now known as the GRU or military intelligence, and it was in this position that he was sent illegally to Germany. ‘Unshlikht was given the task of organising the detachments which were to carry out the armed uprising and coup d’etat, recruiting them and providing them with weapons. He also had the job of organising a German Cheka for the extermination of the bourgeoisie and opponents of the Revolution after the transfer of power…. This was how the planned Revolution was planned to take place. On the occasion of the anniversary of the Russian October Revolution the working masses were to come out on the streets for mass demonstrations. Unshlikht’s “Red hundreds” were to provoke clashes with the police so as to cause bloodshed and more serious conflicts, to inflame the workers’ indignation and carry out a general working-class uprising.’ (B. Bazhanov: ‘Memoirs of a Secretary to Stalin’, pub. Tretya volna 1980, pp 67-69.)

In view of the instability of German Society at that time, the absence of a powerful army, the widespread discontent and the frequent outbursts of violence, especially in 1923, the plan might have been realised. Many experts are inclined to the view that Germany really was close to revolution. Soviet military intelligence and its terrorist units led by Unshlikht were expected to do no more than put the spark to the powder keg.

There were many reasons why the plans came to nothing. But there were two especially important ones: the absence of a common frontier between the USSR and Germany, and the split in the German Communist Party. The lack of a common frontier was at the time a serious obstacle to the penetration into Germany of substantial forces of Soviet subversives. Stalin understood this very well, and he was always fighting to have Poland crushed so that common frontiers could be established with Germany. When he succeeded in doing this in 1939, it was a risky step, since a common frontier with Germany meant that Germany could attack the USSR without warning, as indeed happened two years later. But without a common frontier Stalin could not get into Europe.

The split in the German Communist Party was an equally serious hindrance to the carrying out of Soviet plans. One group pursued policy, subservient to the Comintern and consequently to the Soviet Politburo, while the other pursued an antagonistic one. Zinoviev was ‘extremely displeased by this and he raised the question in the Politburo of presenting Maslov [one of the dissenting German Communist leaders] with an ultimatum: either he would take a large sum of money, leave the party and get out of Germany, or Unshlikht would be given orders to liquidate him.’ (Ibid. p. 68)

Crimes of Conscience

Friday, January 28th, 2011

The recent assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, by an assassin with public support, reminded me of the various “incidents” in Imperial Japan leading into WWII, like the May 15 Incident, in 1932:

The May 15 Incident was an attempted coup d’état in Japan, on May 15, 1932, launched by radical elements of the Imperial Japanese Navy, aided by cadets in the Imperial Japanese Army and civilian remnants of the League of Blood Incident. Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi was assassinated by 11 young naval officers.
The eleven murderers of Prime Minister Inukai were court-martialed; however, before the end of their trial a petition arrived at court containing over 350,000 signatures in blood, which had been signed by sympathizers around the country to plead for a lenient sentence. During the proceedings, the accused used the trial as a platform to proclaim their loyalty to the Emperor and to arouse popular sympathy by appealing for reforms of the government and economy. In addition to the petition, the court also received a request from eleven youths in Niigata, asking that they be executed in place of the Navy officers, and sending eleven severed fingers to the court as a gesture of their sincerity.

The Russian Tsar faced similar troubles:

Many of the first leaders of the Red Army had been terrorists in the past, before the Revolution. For example, one of the outstanding organisers of the Red Army, Mikhail Frunze, after whom the principal Soviet military academy is named, had twice been sentenced to death before the Revolution. At the time it was by no means easy to get two death sentences.

For organising a party which aimed at the overthrow of the existing regime by force, Lenin received only three years of deportation in which he lived well and comfortably and spent his time shooting, fishing and openly preaching revolution. And the woman terrorist Vera Zasulich, who murdered a provincial governor was acquitted by a Russian court. The court was independent of the state and reckoned that, if she had killed for political reasons, it meant that she had been prompted by her conscience and her beliefs and that her acts could not be regarded as a crime.

In this climate Mikhail Frunze had managed to receive two death sentences. Neither of them was carried out, naturally. On both occasions the sentence was commuted to deportation, from which he had no great difficulty in escaping. It was while he was in exile that Frunze organised a circle of like-minded people which was called the ‘Military Academy’: a real school for terrorists, which drew up the first strategy to be followed up by armed detachments of Communists in the event of an uprising.