In a short period of time, with fierce fighting raging in full swing on all fronts, 15 divisions were formed and reinforced the Soviet defences—10 of them were sent to the Western direction(243rd, 244th, 246th, 247th, 249th, 250th, 251st, 252nd, 254th, 256th), and 5 to the North-West(257th, 259th, 262nd, 265th, 268th ). A contemporary Russian publication dedicated to the research of internal security troops, refers to the matter as follows:
“An important part of the activities conducted by the home security troops during the years of Great Patriotic War was the raising of units and formations for the Red Army Field Force from the personnel of NKVD troops. The week after the war started—on the 29th of June 1941—the government ordered NKVD to raise 15 Rifle divisions for the needs of Fronts. For each of these division NKVD allocated 1000 of personnel to fill the positions of commanders and NCOs. The remaining personnel was drafted from reserve. All these divisions were raised within 15-20 days and were transferred to the 29th, 30th, 31st, 34th and some other Armies of the first line that were sent to the Western direction in July 1941. Also a number of NKVD officers and generals were appointed on the commanding and political positions in the troops of the Field Force. For instance, the commander of the 29th Army was Lieutenant General I.I. Maslennikov(Deputy of People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs responsible for the NKVD troops), who was to command a number of Armies and Fronts in the coming years. Lieutenant General S.A Artemjev(Chief of NKVD operative troops Department) was appointed the Commander of Moscow Military District(bearing tremendous political importance), while Divisional Commissar of NKVD troops K.F. Telegin was appointed the head of Political Board of this same Moscow MD, and later was to become the member of the Military Council of the Front, and so on. ”
To this interesting reference we might add the following information: 30th Army in July 1941 was headed by NKVD Major General V.A. Khomenko(previously the commander of NKVD border guards in the Ukrainian Border District), and the 31st Army was headed by NKVD Major General K.I. Rakutin(previously the commander of NKVD Baltic Border District), who was succeeded by NKVD Major General V.N. Dolmatov(previously the commander of NKVD Karelian-Finnish Border District). But Major General K.I. Rakutin was not sent back to guard the USSR state border elsewhere, to the Far East or Iran, instead he was given quite responsible task on the Reserve Front.
When reading Marshal G.K. Zhukov’s memoirs, we might encounter yet another indication of employing NKVD troops personnel at the Army level, namely in the well-known Yelnia counterstrike of the Soviet Reserve Front in August 1941: “We arrived at the headquarters of the 24th Army late in the evening. The Army commander K.I. Rakutin and the commanders of Army’s branches of forces were expecting us already. I have never met K.I. Rakutin before; his report on the situation and the deployment of his troops made a good impression, but it was obvious that he did not possess the necessary operative and tactical education—in fact, K.I. Rakutin had the same deficiency as many officers and generals, which previously served in the NKVD border troops, because they almost did not have a possibility to improve their operative skills.”
During the desperate Soviet efforts to thwart Fieldmarschal von Leeb’s armoured spearheads on the approaches to Leningrad, 1st, 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd NKVD divisions were staunchly repelling massive German attacks. Curiously, before the war started, the 20th NKVD Rifle division was deployed in the vicinity of strategic Belomor Canal, built with the assistance of forced labour employment. It should be stressed that later in the war some of these divisions were transferred to regular Red Army and instantly renamed which probably makes the task of researching their fates more difficult: 1st NKVD division (commander colonel S.I. Donskov) turned into 46th Rifle division, 20th NKVD division was designated a 92nd Rifle division, and 21st NKVD division was renamed as 109th Rifle division. These formations won high appraisal in course of the war and were decorated with many orders, moreover, after the war was over, a monument to the soldiers of the 1st NKVD division was erected in Leningrad—the division was virtually wiped off by a massive Luftwaffe airstrike on the 6th of September 1941.
The defence of Kharkiv in autumn 1941 by the troops of Soviet 38th Army was also considerably strengthened by the presence of 47th NKVD Rifle brigade that mounted several successful counterattacks in October.
Evidently, the construction of deep Soviet defensive lines initiated in autumn 1941 required massive human resources, the exploitation of which was impossible without forced labour management, hence the need to use seasoned NKVD personnel with good GULAG system records. Thus Yakov Davydovich Rapoport, bearing the NKVD rank of Senior Major of State Security, who was responsible for starving thousands of GULAG camp prisoners on various “building projects”(Baltic Sea—White Sea canal, hydroelectric power stations, etc.) before the war, was appointed the Commander of the 3rd Engineer Army in November 1941; while Commissar of the State Security of the 3rd rank Sergej Kruglov(People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs Deputy) led the 4th Engineer Army since October 1941, previously participating in the court-martial sessions within the Reserve Front, where he served as a Military Council member(July-October 1941). For his endeavours in mobilising thousands of civilians for the erection of gigantic defence lines in the vicinity of major Soviet cities with a 12-hour working day and meagre food rations, Kruglov was awarded a rank of Colonel General later in the war.
A sophisticated task of creating and leading a large-scale partisan movement in the occupied Soviet areas was partly solved by Soviet High Command after employing NKVD personnel, parachuted in German rear; it is quite apparent that without NKVD cadres the partisan movement would have never been able to achieve serious successes. In Ukraine it was co-ordinated by notorious T. Strokach, People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs Deputy (28.3.1941—16.1.1946), who was in charge of the so-called Ukrainian Partisan Movement High Command in 1942-1945.
After the major Soviet counter-offensive in winter of 1941-1942 dozens of cities, towns and villages were recaptured, and, according to the State Committee of Defence Decree dated January 4, 1942, strong garrisons of fresh NKVD troops were to be deployed in the liberated areas, with a possibility of future participation in combat. Therefore 6 NKVD Rifle divisions and 3 NKVD Motorised Rifle divisions were raised, consisting of 5-6 regiments with 3 battalions in each regiment, with the engagement of 92,000 NKVD troops (Railway Guarding troops, Escort troops) and 2,000 of Border-Guards. In the city of Tihvin the 5th NKVD Rifle division was raised, in Kalinin the 6th NKVD Rifle division, in Tula the 7th NKVD Motorised Rifle division, in Voronezh the 8th NKVD Motorised Rifle division, in Rostov the 9th NKVD Motorised Rifle division, in Stalingrad the 10th NKVD Rifle division, in Krasnodar the 11th NKVD Rifle division and in Saratov the 12th NKVD Rifle division. However, soon the situation on the fronts demanded that the 8th NKVD Motorised Rifle division, 9th NKVD Motorised Rifle division, 10th and 11th NKVD Rifle divisions were moved to the Red Army, so additional 8 NKVD Rifle brigades, one Rifle regiment and 3 separate NKVD battalions, all in all 44,000 strong were raised in April 1942. Even so, as the German army has inflicted heavy defeat to the RKKA during the Operation Blau in the southern sector of the East Front in summer 1942, a further increase in need of NKVD reserves emerged.
Appendix to the State Committee of Defence Decree
of 26 July 1942
List of NKVD units being transferred to the Red Army in the strength of 75, 000 servicemen
Branch of NKVD troops Strength
- NKVD home security troops
9th motorised Rifle division(full strength) 8, 700
13th motorised Rifle division (including 4th, 266th, 274th and 289th regiments and technical services) 6, 580
Separate Rifle brigade of border guards (full strength) 4, 000
20th division total of 23, 766
other home security troops 8, 547
- Border guards 7, 000
- Troops guarding important industrial objects 5, 414
- Railway guarding troops 6, 673
5.Escort troops 4, 320
Total 75, 000