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.


  1. Bruce G Charlton says:

    This sounds rather like the traditional training at medical school — of which I experienced the tail-end.

    This tough-minded approach was: “See one, do one, teach one”.

    If the personnel are pre-selected for general aptitude and motivation, it does work — most of the time.

    Which is not always the case for more gradual, gentle and humane approaches.

  2. Isegoria says:

    I suppose the ideal approach differs, depending on whether you’re trying to find the people who’ve got the right stuff and weed out the rest or trying to make the best with the people you’ve got.

  3. Bruce G Charlton says:

    Another institution which uses this method of harsh but effective, sink-or-swim, training is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

    Although, since it is for children, they maintain an expert magical doctor, Madam Pomfrey, to patch up the inevitable casualties.

  4. Alex J. says:

    Stress inoculation.

    Soldiers in the first gulf war said it was just like training at Ft. Irwin, except not as hard.

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