Maskirovka; A Powerful Soviet Concept

‘War puts nations to the test. Just as mummies crumble to dust the moment they are exposed to air, so war pronounces its sentence of death on those social institutions which have become ossified.’ (Karl Marx, 1855).

Maskirovka, the art of deception, formed the very bedrock of Soviet military practice and is still an important tenet in Russian strategic thinking. It has no equivalent in the West; indeed the word Maskirovka itself defies translation. It encompasses the arts of concealment (skrytie), the use of dummies and decoys (imitatsiia), disinformation (dezinformatsiia), and even the execution of complex demonstration manoeuvres (demonstrativny manevry). Indeed, anything capable of confusing, and therefore weakening, the enemy may be incorporated.

Maskirovka, according to the Soviet Military Encyclopaedia, complements surprise by covertly ‘securing military operations and the routine activity of troops and by confusing the enemy with regard to the presence and position of the forces, military complexes, their position, level of preparation and activity as well as the plans for the command structure.’

Although both the Tzars and Bolsheviks recognized the potential of Maskirovka, neither exploited it fully. The Leninist secret service organization, the Cheka, adopted the term dezinformatsiia in the 1920s, but was subsequently frustrated by Stalin who actively distrusted the concept.

In the late 1920s the Ukrainian Military District was allowed to organize a special partisan task force charged with the demolition of critical facilities along the border with Poland and Romania in the case of invasion. The task force was responsible for the development of demolition technology, the establishing of explosives caches and the training of special teams to carry out covert demolition tasks. Primary targets for such teams were to be the key points and rolling stock of the Soviet railway system, their objective being to deny use of the system to an invading enemy.

More than sixty demolition teams were formed with an average strength of twenty-three persons each (including some females). Every demolition expert was also a parachutist, a radio operator and a master of camouflage (then defined as maskirovka). In the winter of 1932 a number of teams jumped into the Leningrad Military District on an exercise to demonstrate their skills on operations in the enemy rear, their mission being to capture a headquarters and destroy transportation facilities. The mission was an unqualified success and the teams were able to place ten mines on a 10km stretch of track before their presence was detected (by a mine which blew up under the wheels of a commuter train before it could be removed).

Although primarily an engineer effort, the programme was closely related to the GRU’s creation of a special partisan cadre trained for ‘stay behind’ operations in the enemy rear in the event of invasion. Gradually, however, as the threat of foreign invasion subsided, the partisan groups were absorbed into the Red Army and the programme destroyed. Most of the personnel associated with it were killed during Stalin’s purges in the late 1930s, possibly because he feared that the programme was a destabilizing threat to his own régime.

The Great Patriotic War

Maskirovka was employed to limited effect by the military during the Great Patriotic War (the Second World War). It was exploited during the counter-offensive to relieve Moscow in 1942, and later in the encirclement of the Sixth Army attacking Stalingrad. Its large-scale use was otherwise limited to the Manchurian Campaign described below.

The NKVD, however, almost immediately formed a Special Tasks unit of 20,000 men and women, including 2,000 foreigners and 140 former intelligence and security officers arrested in the pre-war purges and now released under licence (many were subsequently re-arrested once their usefulness was over). In October 1941, the unit was enlarged and reorganized into Independent Department Two of the NKVD reporting directly to Beria, and in February, 1942, became the Independent Directorate Four for Special Tasks and Guerrilla Warfare. As such it assumed responsibility for the vast majority of major intelligence operations against Germany, including the running of clandestine groups in the occupied territories, the creation of deception plans at home and the planting of disinformation rumours.

During the course of the war the unit infiltrated 212 guerrilla detachments comprising 7,316 men behind the enemy lines. It trained over 1,000 military and 3,500 civilian technicians and saboteurs and was responsible for the deaths of eighty-seven high-ranking German officials and the liquidation of 2,045 Soviet collaborators in the service of the Germans. Twenty-three of its officers (including a few former prisoners) were awarded the highest honour, Hero of the Soviet Union, and more than 8,000 of its members received lesser decorations.

One of the most successful deception exercises of the war was Operation Monastery, undertaken by the NKVD in conjunction with the GRU in July, 1941. Monastery was intended as a counter intelligence operation aimed at penetrating the Abwehr (German intelligence) network within the Soviet Union, but quickly expanded. A few members of the former Czarist intelligentsia who had somehow survived the Stalinist purges of the 1920s and 1930s were recruited by the NKVD and formed into a psuedo pro-German organization in the hopes that they would be targetted by the Abwehr.

Control of the group passed to Aleksandr Demyanov, a veteran NKVD agent with an otherwise impeccable White Russian background. His grandfather had been the founder of the Kuban Cossacks, his father an officer in the Imperial Army, killed in action fighting the Germans in 1915. His uncle had been chief of counterintelligence for the White Army in the Northern Caucasus, had been captured by the Chekists and had died of typhus en route to interrogation in Moscow. Demyanov’s mother, a well-known socialite, had received but rejected several invitations to emigrate to France, but had returned instead to Leningrad. There Demyanov’s background had denied him a formal education and, indeed, had led to his arrest in 1929 on false charges of possessing illegal weapons and anti-Soviet propaganda.

Unusually, Demyanov had not been sentenced to administrative exile in Siberia, but had instead been recruited by the NKVD. Tired of violence and political intrigue, he had agreed to work towards the neutralization of White immigrant groups returning to the Soviet Union. He had later moved to Moscow where he had obtained a job with the Central Cinema Studio, Moscow’s Hollywood. His intelligence and easy going nature had made him many friends among the actors, directors and writers, and had brought him to the attention of the Abwehr.

On the eve of the war, when Demyanov was first approached by the Abwehr, he already had ten years counter-intelligence operational experience with the NKVD. Having gained the trust of Germany, Demyanov let it be known that he led a pro-German underground organization which would feed the Abwehr information in exchange for a promise of positions in the German provisional government once the Soviet Union had been conquered.

The deception operation was originally planned as a means of exposing Russian collaboration with the Nazis, but quickly expanded into a far more deadly confrontation between NKVD and Abwehr. In December, 1941, Demyanov crossed the front line on skis, pretending to be a deserter from the Red Army. To make the crossing, he skied over a recently laid minefield, unaware of the danger. The Abwehr group to whom he surrendered did not trust him and, as a deserter, treated him with contempt.

They were, however, most interested in how he had crossed the minefield and could not believe that he could have done so without knowing the pattern of the mines in advance. They took no interest in his covert activities and, indeed, on one occasion staged a mock execution to compel him to admit his collusion with Soviet intelligence. That failing, they transferred him to Abwehr headquarters in Smolensk. There, to his surprise, the Germans took no interest in his political motives but instead recruited him as a full-time agent of the Abwehr with the task of setting up a spy ring based on his connections in Moscow.

The Abwehr became certain of Demyanov’s bona fides when they checked their own files and discovered that not only was he of impeccable pedigree but that he had been targetted by one of their agents. Demyanov was not allowed to mix with the Russian emigrés then serving the Nazis. Their organizations had been heavily infiltrated by the NKVD and Berlin was adamant that their new find would remain untainted.

In February, 1942, after a period of intensive Abwehr training, Demyanov and two assistants were parachuted into the outskirts of Moscow. The landing went badly, the three men lost contact with each other in a snowstorm and had to reach Moscow independently. Demyanov quickly contacted his NKVD masters and with their assistance set up a Nazi rezidenzia in the city. His two assistants were arrested.

In the months that followed, the Abwehr sent in excess of fifty agents to Moscow. All were quickly and quietly arrested. Faced with the stark option of death, a number agreed to become double agents and assisted the NKVD in the creation of a fiction in which Demyanov was receiving considerable intelligence from a number of undisclosed ex-czarist officers.

Railway accidents were fabricated and reported to the Abwehr as successful sabotage missions. Occasionally Nazi sabotage groups were left at liberty for a few days, but covertly followed to establish their contacts. In one instance Demyanov’s wife doped a team by dropping knockout pills into their vodka. While they slept a team of demolition experts entered her flat to disable the saboteurs’ explosives. Effectively disarmed, the team was allowed considerable leeway before being arrested.

A few German couriers, mostly of Baltic origin, were allowed to return to the Abwehr to whom they reported that the network was functioning successfully. Operation Monastery proved highly successful, causing the German High Command to make a number of fatal errors. Because Demyanov ensured that all information sent to the Abwehr contained at least an element of truth they began to accept the whole unreservedly.

In one instance, on the eve of the Battle of Stalingrad, Monastery predicted that the Red Army would unleash a massive offensive in the North Caucasus and in the areas to the north of Stalingrad. Such an attack did take place, but it was only a diversion planned by Stalin in absolute secrecy to divert German efforts away from Stalingrad itself. Even Zhukov, in command of the diversionary attack, was not told that the Germans had been forewarned, and in the process of pursuing the feint to its vigorous and bloody conclusion paid a heavy price in the loss of thousands of men.

Later, during the Battle of Kursk in April and May 1943, Monastery reported that the Soviets held strong reserves in the east and south of the theatre but that these lacked manoeuvrability. This resulted in the Germans moving much of their reserve to meet an anticipated, though non-existent, attack to the north, leaving themselves vulnerable to the actual Soviet thrust when it came from the south.

With the aid of Enigma the British were able to intercept many of Monastery’s messages to Berlin and reported these in sanitized form to the Soviets. In February, 1943, London warned Stalin that the Abwehr had a source in Moscow. Only years later did the British discover that this was in fact Monastery.

Although the largest of the Soviet deception plans, Monastery was far from unique. In all, Moscow operated in excess of forty minor radio deceptions, few if any of which fell under Nazi suspicion. In theory the Abwehr was an excellent intelligence organization. In practice it lacked versatility. It would not easily accept the possibility of error, nor the likelihood of infiltration. Soviet disinformation fed to the German High Command via the Abwehr seems to have been accepted almost at face value, and certainly did much to influence the course of several crucial battles.

The Manchurian Experience

The attack against the Japanese in Manchuria in August, 1945, was the last great campaign of the war, and was the only example of the successful use of strategic surprise by the Soviets. In eleven days of savage fighting they secured approximately 1.5 million square kilometres, an area the size of France.

The Soviets had fought the Japanese Kwantung Army in numerous border incidents in the years preceding the invasion, most notably at Lake Khasan in 1938, but tensions had eased somewhat with the signing of the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact in April, 1941. The Soviets had, however, continued to maintain a force of 1.3 million men, including between forty and sixty rifle divisions, on the Manchurian border.

Stalin had promised at the February, 1945, Yalta Conference to assist the Allies in the war against Japan within three months of the surrender of Germany, but in fact had intended to attack into Manchuria in late summer-early autumn 1945 to clear the Japanese from the area before the onset of winter. In the event his hand was forced on 6 August when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On 9 August the Soviets crossed the Manchurian frontier taking the Japanese completely by surprise.

Preparations for the campaign were actually begun in late 1944, although formal planning did not begin until February, 1945. From December, 1944 to the end of March, 1945, the Soviets moved 410 million rounds of small-arms ammunition and 3.2 million artillery shells to the Far East. Between April, 1945 and 25 July, 1945 the Soviets shipped two military fronts, two field armies, one tank army and supporting war material from Europe, via the Trans-Siberian railroad to the Manchurian border. Over 136,000 rail cars and up to thirty trains a day were employed in the move, which led to the redeployment of the equivalent of thirty divisions, yet the entire manoeuvre was kept a closely guarded secret, not just from the Japanese but from the Soviet’s Anglo-American allies.

Key personnel travelled in disguise to preserve the myth of normality, while many units moved only at night, staying camouflaged during the day. Soviet troops closest to the border built massive defensive emplacements to reinforce the Japanese feeling of security. By August the newly created Far East command had just under 1.6 million personnel under arms, supported by 27,000 guns and mortars, 1,200 multiple rocket launchers, 5,600 tanks and self-propelled guns, 3,700 aircraft and 86,000 vehicles along a 5,000km frontage.

The Kwantung Army was taken completely by surprise. Although it occupied good defensive positions it had not expected to fight and was in any case a mere shell of its former self. Its better troops had long been transferred to other theatres, all but six of its divisions were new and some of its veteran units were down to 15% efficiency. There can be no doubt that it could not have withstood the might of the Soviet onslaught under any circumstances. Equally, however, had the Soviets not been so effective in masking their intentions the Japanese would have been better prepared and might well have delayed, if not completely frustrated, their advance. The Soviets learned many lessons from Manchuria, not the least the absolute necessity for deception in tactical planning. When Stalin died in 1953 the art of Maskirovka, which had made the Manchurian Campaign so successful, was formally adopted by the Red Army.


Foxtrot on the Brink

The Foxtrot class was the NATO reporting name of a class of diesel-electric patrol submarines that were built in the Soviet Union. The Soviet designation of this class was Project 641. The Foxtrot class was designed to replace the earlier Zulu class, which suffered from structural weaknesses and harmonic vibration problems that limited its operational depth and submerged speed. The first Foxtrot keel was laid down in 1957 and commissioned in 1958 and the last was completed in 1983. A total of 58 were built for the Soviet Navy at the Sudomekh division of the Admiralty Shipyard (now Admiralty Wharves), St. Petersburg.[1] Additional hulls were built for other countries.

In the Cold War era, that commitment began with the massive submarine construction programs initiated immediately after World War II-the long-range Project 611/Zulu, the medium-range Project 613/Whiskey, and the coastal Project 615/Quebec classes. Not only did these craft serve as the foundation for the Soviet Navy’s torpedo-attack submarine force for many years, but converted Zulus and Whiskeys were also the first Soviet submarines to mount ballistic and cruise missiles, and several other ships of these designs were employed in a broad range of research and scientific endeavors.

These construction programs were terminated in the mid-1950s as part of the large-scale warship cancellations that followed dictator Josef Stalin’s death in March 1953. But the cancellations also reflected the availability of more-advanced submarine designs. Project 641 (NATO Foxtrot) would succeed the 611/Zulu as a long-range torpedo submarine, and Project 633 (NATO Romeo) would succeed the 613/Whiskey as a medium-range submarine. There would be no successor in the coastal category as the Soviet Navy increasingly undertook “blue water” operations. Early Navy planning provided for the construction of 160 Project 641/ Foxtrot submarines.

Designed by Pavel P. Pustintsev at TsKB-18 (Rubin), Project 641 was a large, good-looking submarine, 2991/2 feet (91.3 m) in length, with a surface displacement of 1,957 tons. Armament consisted of ten 21-inch (533-mm) torpedo tubes-six bow and four stern. Project 641/Foxtrot had three diesel engines and three electric motors with three shafts, as in the previous Project 611/Zulu (and smaller Project 615/Quebec). Beyond the increase in range brought about by larger size, some ballast tanks were modified for carrying fuel. Submerged endurance was eight days at slow speeds without employing a snorkel, an exceptional endurance for the time. The Foxtrot introduced AK-25 steel to submarines, increasing test depth to 920 feet (280 m). The large size also provided increased endurance, theoretically up to 90 days at sea.

The lead ship, the B-94, was laid down at the Sudomekh yard in Leningrad on 3 October 1957; she was launched-64 percent complete-in less than three months, on 28 December. After completion and sea trials, she was commissioned on 25 December 1958. Through 1971 the Sudomekh Admiralty complex completed 58 ships of this design for the Soviet Navy.

Additional units were built at Sudomekh from 1967 to 1983 specifically for transfer to Cuba (3), India (8), and Libya (6). The Indian submarines were modified for tropical climates, with increased air conditioning and fresh water facilities. Later, two Soviet Foxtrots were transferred to Poland. The foreign units brought Project 641/Foxtrot production to 75 submarines, the largest submarine class to be constructed during the Cold War except for the Project 613/Whiskey and Project 633/Romeo programs.

(Two Project 641 submarines are known to have been lost, the B-37 was sunk in a torpedo explosion at Polnaryy in 1962 and the B-33 sank at Vladivostok in 1991.)

The Soviet units served across the broad oceans for the next three decades. They operated throughout the Atlantic, being deployed as far as the Caribbean, and in the Pacific, penetrating into Hawaiian waters. And Foxtrots were a major factor in the first U.S.-Soviet naval confrontation.


Standing on the deck of his submarine, staring at a strange-looking torpedo, Captain First Rank Ryurik Ketov flipped up the collar on the back of his navy blue overcoat to shield his neck from the cold. A fading September sun coated the waters of Sayda Bay and reflected remnants of orange and yellow from the sides of a floating crane. The crane hovered over Ketov’s boat and lowered a purple-tipped torpedo through the loading hatch. Within minutes the long cylinder disappeared into the forward torpedo room. Blowing into his gloved hands to keep his nose warm, Ketov glanced at the submarine’s conning tower. Three large white numbers were painted on the side, but Ketov knew this label held no meaning, except to serve as a numerical decoy for enemy eyes. The boat’s real designation was B4—B as in Bolshoi, which means “large.”

The handsome, blue-eyed Ketov inherited his B-4 Project 641 submarine—known as a Foxtrot class by NATO forces—from his former commander, who was a drunk. Tradition dictated that submarine captains who were too inebriated to drive their boats into port should lie below until they sobered up. First officers took charge and positioned a broomstick on the bridge in their captain’s stead. Atop the handle they placed the CO’s cap so that admirals on shore peering through binoculars would raise no eyebrows. Ketov stood watch with a broom more times than he could recall. He didn’t dislike vodka, nor did he disapprove of his CO’s desire to partake, but Ketov felt that a man must know his limits and learn to steer clear of such rocks when under way. He demanded no less of his crew. Unfortunately, as his appointment to commander required the approval of the dozen sub skippers in his group, and all of them drank like dolphins, Ketov’s stance on alcohol held him back for a year when he came up for promotion.

The Soviet navy formed the sixty-ninth Brigade of Project 641 submarines in the summer of 1962. Ketov and his comrade captains were ordered to prepare for an extended deployment, which they suspected might be to Africa or Cuba. Some wives, filled with excitement, anticipated a permanent transfer to a warm locale.

The four subs arrived in Gadzhiyevo at Sayda Bay a month earlier and were incorporated into the Twentieth Submarine Squadron along with the seven missile boats. Vice Admiral Rybalko assumed command of the squadron, and over the next thirty days, each boat was loaded with huge quantities of fuel and stores.

Now, aboard B-4, Captain Ketov coughed into the wind and turned to stare at the weapons security officer. Perched near the crane, the man shouted orders and waved long arms at the fitful dockworkers. The officer’s blue coveralls and pilotka “piss cutter” cap signified that he belonged to the community of submariners, but Ketov knew better. The shape of a sidearm bulged from under the man’s tunic, and his awkwardness around the boat made it obvious that he was not a qualified submariner.

Ketov also knew that the security officer came from Moscow with orders to help load, and then guard, the special weapon. Although he’d not yet been briefed about the weapon, Ketov figured this torpedo with the purple-painted nose, which stood in sharp contrast against the other gray torpedoes on board, would probably send a radiation Geiger counter into a ticking frenzy.

Ketov looked down at the oily water that slapped against the side of his boat. Attached by long steel cables, three sister boats of the Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet floated nearby. If one approached these late-model attack subs from the front, their jet-black hulls, upward-sloping decks, and wide conning towers with two rows of Plexiglas windows might look menacing. The silver shimmer of their sonar panels, running across the bow like wide strips of duct tape, might appear odd. The reflective panels of the passive acoustic antenna, jutting from the deck near the bow, might look borrowed from the set of a science-fiction movie. But the seasoned sailors on the decks of these workhorses were unmistakably Russian, and undeniably submariners.

Ketov strutted across the wooden brow that connected B-4 to the pier. Two guards, with AK-47 assault rifles slung on their shoulders, snapped to and saluted. Ice crunched under his boots as he walked toward a small shed less than a hundred meters away. Captain Second Rank Aleksei Dubivko, commander of B-36, matched his stride and let out a baritone grunt.

“Did they give you one of those purple-nosed torpedoes?”

“Yes,” Ketov answered, “they did.”

Although the round-faced commander was about Ketov’s height of five foot seven, Dubivko’s stocky frame stretched at the stitches of his overcoat. He let out another grunt and said, “Why are they giving us nuclear-tipped weapons? Are we starting a war?”

“Maybe,” Ketov said. “Or maybe we’re preventing one.”

Dubivko’s boots clicked on the ice as he hurried to keep up with Ketov. “We haven’t even tested these weapons. We haven’t trained our crews. They have fifteen-megaton warheads.”


“So if we use them, we’ll wipe out everything within a sixteen-kilometer radius. Including ourselves.”

Ketov neared the door of the shed and stopped to face Dubivko. “Then let’s hope we never have to use them.”

Dubivko let out a low growl and followed Ketov into the shack.

Inside, Captain First Rank Nikolai Shumkov, commander of submarine B-130, stood by the door. Only a few stress lines underscored his brown eyes and marked his boyish features. Next to Shumkov, Captain Second Rank Vitali Savitsky, commander of B-59, appeared tired and bored. None of them had slept much since their trip from Polyarny to Sayda Bay.

The tiny shed, once used for storage, offered no windows. A single dim bulb hung from the ceiling and cast eerie shadows inside. Someone had nailed the Order of Ushakov Submarine Squadron flag on one wall. The unevenly placed red banner, fringed in gold and smeared with water stains, appeared as if hung by a child in a hurry. In one corner sat a small stove that flickered with yellow sparks but offered little warmth. The air smelled of burnt coal.

One metal table graced the center of the room, where the squadron commander, Leonid Rybalko, sat with his arms crossed. Ketov noticed that the vice admiral shivered, despite being bundled in a dark navy greatcoat and wool senior officers’ mushanka cap. The tall, broad-shouldered Rybalko had a reputation for analytical brilliance and a smooth, engaging wit. A dedicated performer, Rybalko exuded the confidence and mastery of a seasoned leader.

To the side and behind Rybalko, the deputy supreme commander of the Navy Fleet, Admiral Vitali Fokin, fidgeted with his watch. Thin and lofty, Fokin kept his back straight. Ketov deduced that Fokin, given his close relationship with Fleet Admiral Sergei Gorshkov, held the reins of what ever mission they were about to undertake. A slew of other officers filled the room, including Anatoly Rossokho, the two-star vice admiral chief of staff. Ketov suspected that Rossokho was here to define their rules of engagement about using the special nuclear torpedoes.

Vice Admiral Rybalko motioned for everyone to find a seat. He coughed and brought a handkerchief to his lips to spit out a clump of mucus. His face looked pale and sickly. He locked his eyes on each submarine commander one at a time. When he looked at Ketov, those few moments seemed like days.

“Good morning, Commanders,” Rybalko said. “Today is an important day. I’m not going to discuss mission details, as we’ve included those in your sealed briefings, which you will open under way. So instead we will focus on other aspects of your mission.”

Metal clanked as an attendant creaked open the front panel on the hot stove and dumped in another can of coal pellets.

Rybalko continued. “I’m sure you all know Admiral Fokin. He asked me to emphasize that each of you has been entrusted with the highest responsibility imaginable. Your actions and decisions on this mission could start or prevent a world war. The four of you have been given the means with which to impose substantial harm upon the enemy. Discretion must be used. Fortunately, our intelligence sources report that American antisubmarine warfare activity should be light during your transit.”

Ketov hoped that the ASW intelligence report was correct but feared that optimism probably overruled reality. He glanced at the other sub commanders. Dubivko and Shumkov wore excited smiles. Savitsky, who’d earned the nickname “Sweat Stains” because he was always perspiring about something, wrinkled his brow. Ketov, who received the title of “Comrade Cautious,” shared Savitsky’s angst. As adventurous as this might seem to Dubivko and Shumkov, Ketov knew Project 641 submarines were not designed for extended runs into hot tropical waters and had no business carrying nuclear torpedoes.

Rybalko imparted more information, concluded his speech, and asked if anyone had questions.

Ketov raised a hand. “I do, Comrade Admiral. I understand that our sealed orders provide mission details, but we share concerns about our rules of engagement and the special weapon. When should we use it?”

Vice Admiral Rossokho broke in. “Comrade Commanders, you will enter the following instructions into your logs when you return to your submarines: Use of the special weapons is authorized only for these three situations—One, you are depth charged, and your pressure hull is ruptured. Two, you surface, and enemy fire ruptures your pressure hull. Three, upon receipt of explicit orders from Moscow.”

There were no further questions.

After the meeting, Ketov followed the group out into the cold. A witch’s moon clung to the black sky and hid behind a dense fog that touched the ground with icy fingers. Ketov reached into his coat pocket and took out a cigarette. Dubivko, standing nearby, held up a lighter. Ketov bent down to accept the flame. Captains Shumkov and Savitsky also lit smokes as they shivered in the dark.

Between puffs, Ketov posed the first question to Captain Savitsky. “How are your diesels holding up?”

Savitsky cringed. “No problems yet, but I’m still worried about what might happen after they’ve been run hard for weeks. If they fail on this mission…” Savitsky’s voice trailed off as he shook his head.

Ketov knew that shipyard workers had discovered flaws in B-130’s diesel engines during the boat’s construction. The shipyard dismissed the hairline cracks as negligible, and Savitsky did not press the issue, as to do so would have resulted in his sub’s removal from the mission. Still, he fretted endlessly about the consequences.

Sensing his friend’s distress, Ketov changed the subject. “Have you seen those ridiculous khaki trousers they delivered?”

“I’m not wearing those,” Savitsky said.

“I wouldn’t either,” Shumkov said, “if I had your skinny duck legs.”

Savitsky snorted and threw his head back. “I’d like to see how you look in those shorts, Comrade Flabby Ass.”

“Right now,” Dubivko said as he pulled his coat tighter, “I’d rather look like a duck in shorts than a penguin in an overcoat.”

Ketov smiled and shook his head. “I’m going back to my boat, try on those silly shorts, and have a long laugh and a can of caviar.”

“And maybe some vodka?” Shumkov said.

“I wish,” Ketov said. “We cast lines at midnight.”

Shumkov nodded and said nothing.

Savitsky raised his chin toward Ketov. “Do you think we’re coming back or staying there permanently?”

Ketov shrugged. “All I know is that we can’t wear those stupid shorts in this weather.”

Back on board B-4, Captain Ketov sat on the bunk in his cabin and stroked the soft fur of the boat’s cat. “It’s time to go, Pasha.”

Over the past year, the calico had become a close member of B-4’s family. Like many Russian submarines, B-4 enlisted the services of felines to hunt down rats that managed to find their way on board, usually by way of one of the shorelines. Boats often carried at least one or two cats on board, and the furry creatures spent their entire lives roaming the decks in search of snacks and curling up next to sailors on bunks. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, headquarters decreed that cats were forbidden on this journey. Given no choice, Ketov found a good home for Pasha with a friend who could care for her and keep her safe.

As Pasha purred by his side, Ketov reached for a can of tuna. “The least I can do is give you a nice snack before we leave.”

Ketov thought about his mother, still living in the rural Siberian village of Kurgan. She’d lost her husband to one war; would she now sacrifice her first born son? When Ketov was thirteen, his father, who was an accountant with bad eyesight, was forced to fight in the battle at Leningrad. He was killed in his first engagement. Ketov became the man of the house and helped support his younger siblings and his mother, who earned a meager teacher’s salary. He could still not explain why, but the day he turned eighteen, one year after the war ended, he took the train to Moscow and enrolled in the naval college. He also had no explanation for why he’d jumped at the chance to serve aboard submarines. He only knew that, despite the sacrifices and often miserable conditions on the boats, no other life could fulfill him like the one under the sea.

A few minutes past midnight on October 1, 1962, Captain Ketov stood on the bridge of B-4 and watched Captain Savitsky cast off lines and guide B-59 away from the pier using her quiet electric motors. Captain Vasily Arkhipov, the brigade’s chief of staff, stood next to Savitsky in the small cockpit up in the conning tower. A flurry of snow mingled with the fog and dusted the boat’s black hull with streaks of white. Thirty minutes later, B-36, commanded by Dubivko, followed in the wake of her sister sub and disappeared into the darkness of the bay. After another thirty minutes, Shumkov, in B-130, followed by Ketov in B-4, maneuvered away from the pier. Ketov stared into the blackness as the three subs ahead of him, all with running lights off, vanished into the night. Then he heard the low rumble of B-59’s diesel engines, signaling that Savitsky had cleared the channel and commenced one of the most important missions undertaken by the Russian navy since World War II.

SERIES XIV (1938) Soviet Submarine

The K-class ‘Series XIV ocean-going submarines of 1,487/2,102tons, 22/10 knots, armed with ten 533mm torpedo tubes, two single 100mm, two 45mm AA guns and 20 mines, were the largest and undoubtedly the best Russian wartime boats. The six boats completed before the war in Leningrad were transferred to the Northern Fleet. They proved to be wet forward in the open sea so the five completed from 1942 to 1944 had a bulbous bow fitted, as seen here.

The photo op aboard K21 of the Northern Fleet held in honour of Captain Lunin and his crew for damaging the German battleship Tirpitz during her action against Convoy PQ17. In fact, the five torpedoes fired by the Russian submarine were not even noticed by the Germans, and the hits were claimed by Lunin following two explosions reported by his hydroacoustic instrument operator. The Russian submarine service did not develop a reliable system to record hits; their captains claimed the sinking of some 87 warships and 322 merchantmen totalling 938,000GRT.

Soviet submarine class, built 1936-44, also known as the Katyusha Class. A class of large ocean-going submarines, known as project KE-9 or Series XIV bis, was designed in the mid-1930s. The K designation is an abbreviation of kreiser (cruiser), and it is believed that the original intention was to embark a small SPL floatplane in a hangar, as in contemporary Japanese submarines. Two prototypes of the aircraft were flown in 1933- 35, but the submarines were never fitted to operate them.

The final class of submarines initiated in this period was the large K-class Series XIV kreyser submarines. Their design began in 1934 under the guidance of M. A. Rudnitskiy. These were the largest and in most respects the best Soviet undersea craft of the prewar period. One Soviet submarine commander described them as “splendid underwater cruisers any country would be proud to have…. [They] were marvelously seaworthy and had considerable operational range.”

The katyushas, as the submariners affectionately called the K-class submarines, displaced 1,480/2,095 tons, were 320k feet (97.65 m) long, and had large diesel-electric propulsion plants that could drive them at 21/10 knots. These were also the most heavily armed Soviet submarines of the period, with six bow and two stem torpedo tubes plus two trainable tubes in the outer hull casing. Twenty Type EM mines could be carried in mine “shafts” in addition to 24 torpedoes. For surface action the katyushas had two 100-mm deck guns and two 45-mm guns. The class was also intended to carry a floatplane for scouting duties, but this aspect of the design was abandoned. These submarines had a double-hull configuration with seven compartments, and were of mixed riveted and welded construction. The first three submarines were built by the Mani (south) yard in Nikolayev and the next six at the Balticl Ordzhonikidze yard in Leningrad.

Mikhail Alekseevich Rudnitskiy designed these large double-hull cruiser submarines. Design work began in 1934. Originally known as Project KE-9, they were intended to carry a small, dismantled floatplane of the SPL series in a hangar aft of the conning tower; the project was not pursued. All the class operated with the Northern Fleet. One additional boat building at Leningrad was not completed because of the German siege.

The K-22 was mined off Cape Harbaken on 6 February 1942; the K-23 was lost off Okse Fjord on 12 May; the K-2 failed to return from a patrol off the Norwegian coast in September. The K-3 was lost off Batsfjord on 21 March 1943, and the K-1 probably was mined in the Kara Sea in October. The surviving boats were stricken in the late 1950s, and the K-21 became a memorial at Severomorsk.

Design: Double-hull type with seven main compartments. The later units had larger bow buoyancy tanks and other modifications.

Engineering : The designed surface speed of 22.5 knots was not achieved. At economical speed the two electric motors were driven by the 800-hp diesel generator. The class was equipped with four 60-cell type 2-S battery groups.

Fuel capacity was 255 tons.

Mines: Mines were stowed on a lower deck amidships, within the pressure hull, and released through two vertical chutes located under the control room.

Operational: Endurance for early units was 50 days; increased to 80 days in later units.

SERIES XIV (1938) “K” class

K-1 (29 April 1938), K-2 (29 April 1938), K- 3 (31 July 1938), K-56 (29 December 1940), K-55 (7 February 1941), K- 54 (March 1941), K-57 (1946) K-22 (4 November 1938), K-23 (28 April 1939), K-52 (5 July 1939), K-51 (30 July 1939), K-21 (14 August 1939), K-53 ( 2 September 1939), K-24 (1940) K-58, K-60, K-77, K-78 (1946)

Displacement: 1490 tons (surfaced), 2140 tons (submerged)

Dimensions: 320940 x 24930 x 149100

Machinery: 4 diesel engines, 2 electric motors, 2 shafts. 8400 bhp/2400 shp = 21/10 knots

Range: 14,000 nm at 9 knots surfaced, 160 nm at 3 knots submerged

Armament: 10 x 533mm torpedo tubes (6 bow, 2 stern, 2 trainable external mounts), total 24 torpedoes, 20 mines, 2 x 100mm guns, 2 x 45mm AA guns

Complement: 60





The KV-2 looked more formidable than it actually was. It was excessively heavy, and coupled with a 500-horsepower diesel engine it was slow and not very maneuverable. The massive turret weighed twelve tons, rotated slowly, and would not traverse if the ground was not reasonably flat. Hull armor was very heavy for the period at 75mm for the hull and turret sides and 110mm for the turret front.

Production of the KV-2 was dropped by late 1941, although, to the Germans’ horror, such a giant could be hit over 11 times with no apparent effect whatsoever.

Combat experience gained during the Russo-Finnish War had shown that the existing Red Army tanks lacked the firepower necessary to destroy the heavily reinforced Finnish army bunkers being encountered. At the prodding of a senior general of the Red Army commanding troops in Finland, a new heavy breakthrough tank was conceived. In the span of two weeks a plan was hatched to mount a newly-designed turret mounting an M-10 152mm howitzer on an unmodified KV-1 series chassis. A prototype of this stop-gap vehicle was ready for testing in January 1940.

The initial prototype and a small number of very early series production units of this new heavy breakthrough tank were referred to as the KV-2 Model 1939. They featured a fairly complex angled turret design. The follow-on production units had a simpler and quicker to build turret design and were designated the KV-2 Model 1940. Production of the KV-2 series, nicknamed the `Dreadnought’ by its crews, began in November 1940 and continued until October 1941 with 334 units completed. Besides its main gun, the KV-2 was armed with three 7.62mm machine guns with the KV-2 Model 1940. Maximum armour thickness on the front of the KV-2 turret was 110mm.

Compared to the typical KV-1 series tank that weighed in at roughly 94,000lb (43mt), the six-man KV-2 might weigh as much as 114,000lb (52mt). The added 20,000lb (9.1mt) overloaded a chassis that was already plagued by automotive design issues. This made the KV-2’s on-and off-road mobility inferior to the KV-1 series. The large, heavy and unbalanced turret on the KV-2 also caused problems in traversing it on anything other than level surfaces.

Some KV-2s were based in the western military districts of the Soviet Union that took the initial invasion blows of the German army. On those occasions where the KV-2 series was encountered by advancing German army units in the summer of 1941, the vehicle’s thick armour provided it with immunity to almost every weapon in the German arsenal except the 88mm FlaK gun. Fortunately for the German army, the KV-2s were few and far between, with most being lost to mechanical failure or lack of fuel. A small number of KV-2s would survive long enough to see service during the fighting for Stalingrad, which lasted from August 1942 until February 1943.


Radar – The Soviet Union WWII Part I

British Army. GL mark II, 5m gun laying, receiver British Army. GL mark II, 5m gun laying, receiver. The set had three dipoles: one at right and left for direction by swinging the whole assembly; a third that moved vertically for height determination. Although classified as “gun laying,” it had little or no blind-fire capability. Deployed 1940. Produced by the Soviets as SON 2.

Whoever wishes to learn how governments fail in the duties of protecting their peoples from disaster should study the history of the Soviet Union; whoever wishes to learn how competent engineers can best be thwarted in their efforts to provide weapons vital for defense should study the history of Soviet radar. It is always the case, that in large projects those close to the details are vexed by the confusion and mismanagement they perceive in their leaders and, above all, in the administrative machinery that attempts to carry out their leaders’ instructions. Such was the case in all radar development in the Second World War, but those who toiled in the laboratories of Britain, America, Germany and Japan and who suffered in this way little knew that their work places were ruled by reason and benevolence when compared with their counterparts in Muscovy. 

There was every reason to believe that the Soviets might have surpassed the west in this new craft. They began first with high-level support, had the influential interest of academician A F Joffe, had a brilliant young electrical engineer and veritable model of the new Soviet man, Pavel Oshchepkov, and a radio engineer who had proved himself with decimeter waves, Yu K Korovin, as enthusiastic leaders, and had obtained financial support in 1934 of 300 000 roubles, which dwarfed that provided by any other power. The initial work pointed toward the development of a Freya and a Würzburg, but by 1940 the resulting radar designs were poor, inferior to the Japanese, and left Russia dependent on Britain and America for much of her needs during the war. 

To understand the history of this place and period one must learn the identities of the contending bureaucratic agencies, and in order to keep this cast of characters straight it is best to know them by their identifying abbreviations.

GAU The Main Artillery Administration, an engineering service of the Red Army concerned with the design of weapons.

PVO The Air Defense Forces, the service to which Oshchepkov was assigned and that had the responsibility for the employment of AA troops; they had interests in weapons design.                                

SKB (also KB-UPVO). A special construction office within the PVO to produce radar, opened in 1933 with Oshchepkov in charge.                                                                    

VNOS The Aerial Observation, Warning and Communication units of the PVO, which were to be the immediate users of radar.                                                

VTU The Military Technical Administration, a part of Red Army headquarters.                                                  

LFTI (also LIPT). The Leningrad Physical-Technical Institute, Joffe’s organization, which included D A Rozhanski until his death in 1936.                                                               

LEFI Leningrad Electro-physical Institute, a GAU laboratory, led by A A Chernishev.                                                        

QRL (also TsRL) The Central Radio Laboratory, another GAU laboratory, led by D N Rumyanysev.                

NII-9 Scientific Research Institute 9, another GAU laboratory that absorbed LEFI in fall 1935. The renowned radio engineer Professor M A Bonch-Bruevich became its director after the purges and attracted good men. Unfortunately, he died in March 1940.                      

UFTI The Ukrainian Physical-Technical Institute, a laboratory organized by Rozhanski and where research in magnetrons was conducted. Later directed by A A Slutskin.                                                                           

NKTP The Research Sector of the Commissariat for Heavy Industry, the supervisory organization for both LIPT and UFTI.                                                                        

NIIIS-KA Scientific Research Institute of Communication Engineers of the Red Army, a group with its own program for the development of signals equipment.                                                                               

VEI All-Union Electrical Institute, a competent research organization with a laboratory for ultra-short waves led by Professor B A Vvedenskiy.                                                                            

SRI (also NII-RP). Scientific Research Institute of the Radio Industry headed by A B Stepushkin.                    

The Academy of Sciences (mercifully seldom referred to by initials). An organization consulted at the highest levels that concerned itself with all manner of scientific and engineering problems relevant to the Soviet state. 

NKVD The People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, the secret police, the name of whose chief, Lavrenty P Beria, carried terror to millions. 

At this point one might well let the reader form in his mind the kind of radar that was to come from the machinations of these agencies, all of which participated, and his construction would probably be close to the mark. Yet the poor Soviet product resulted as much from the purges that Stalin initiated in 1937 as from clumsy, bickering agencies which knew how to use the NKVD for their bureaucratic ends and to take care of a few personal matters along the way. Fear concentrates thought but on survival, not on the subtle intricacies of electronic circuits. This no doubt lies behind the marked deterioration in design encountered in the second stage of Soviet radar development. Important parts of this story will remain unknown to us. 

The PVO had responsibility for early warning and had sponsored the early work on the radio screen Rapid that was done at LEFI until that group was absorbed into the Television Institute, the combination becoming NII-9. Despite the objections from many that Rapid gave precious little data of value about intruding aircraft, PVO had LEFI build under the supervision of B K Shembel a model suitable for army deployment, which had its first tests in July 1934. 

The GUA also wanted radio AA gun-laying equipment and had been sufficiently impressed with the experiments QRL had conducted in January 1934 with a 50 cm set that they wished the idea exploited, and NII-9 undertook the task of providing a suitable prototype. The work was started under Shembel. By early fall 1936 NII-9 had produced an experimental continuous-wave twin-dish set, Storm, which operated on 18 cm using early magnetrons from UFTI that gave about 6 W of continuous wave power. The detection range was only 10 km, and the directional accuracy only 4°, neither adequate. The range problem was a compound of magnetrons with too little power and frequency stability and a noisy receiver that also picked up too much of the primary transmitter signal. Shembel devised a solution for the direction problem analogous to lobe switching and presaging mono-pulse radar. He used four dishes, one a transmitter and the other three paired off in horizontal and vertical coordinates. The first trials failed, and he was unable to bring the concept to fruition before being separated from NII-9 in 1937. 

Victorious NIIIS-KA also continued the GUA gun-laying project, replacing NII-9 with UFTI. The principal deficiency of Storm had been the use of continuous rather than pulsed waves. Bonch-Bruevich had held the project to continuous waves, despite having used pulsed waves in early ionosphere studies; he even terminated pulse work at NII-9 when he became director in 1935. UFTI turned their efforts to a new, pulsed wave 64 cm design called Zenith. It combined every bad feature one could reasonably imagine in one set. It reported the coordinates of range, azimuth and elevation only every 17 s, making it useless for directing an AA gun, and had a dead zone extending out to 6 km, the result of the receiver being unable to recover from the transmitter pulse, although it could observe aircraft to 25 km. A pulse length of 10 to 20 µs gave correspondingly bad range accuracy. Work continued and by the middle of 1940 the range had been extended to 30 km, but the equipment had such a catalogue of ills that it was given up. The technical reasons for failure are not apparent. It would appear that the designers were unable to master the techniques of microwave electronics and thereby profit from the magnetron that N F Alekseev and D D Malairov had invented. 

The purges had at least made one agency responsible for radar, NIIIS-KA, but in the process had removed good engineers from the laboratories and the most supportive top military commanders. Soviet radar entered World War II a low priority project with equipment inferior to all the major powers. Yet it need not have been so. The early start with high-level support, capable engineers and the cavity magnetron could easily have made the Soviet Union the leader in radar. 

The reader must consider these simplified attempts at recounting relevant events in Stalin’s state with suspicion. The material available is limited and was written before the collapse of communism opened secret files and by men not indifferent to what history would record.

As already discussed, Soviet radar development suffered from lack of interest in the high command, confusion as to its mission and the dispatch of excellent radar engineers to the Gulag during the purges of the late 1930s. That anything at all came out is remarkable. Because of or in spite of these extraordinary circumstances there occurred what must be one of the most baffling incidents in the history of radar. In April 1940 when the cavity magnetron was Britain’s most precious military secret, when it traveled under armed guard, when its use was discussed at cabinet level, when it was described as the most valuable cargo ever to arrive in America, when the United States was preparing to open a special laboratory just to exploit its properties, when all these circumstances applied, two Soviet engineers published a complete description of it in the open scientific literature.

During 1936 and 1937 N F Alekseev and D D Malairov produced a series of cavity magnetrons as part of a project for building an anti-aircraft (AA) gun-laying radar at Scientific Research Institute 9 (NII-9) from proposals by its director, radio-eminence Mikhail Alexandrovich Bonch-Bruyevich. The magnetrons were discarded in favor of a pulsed transmitter that used very-high-frequency triodes that worked on 64 cm, had 12 kW peak power, was called Zenith and was abandoned in 1940. 

One can presume and little other evidence is at hand that the lack of success of magnetrons in this work, for whatever reason, taken together with Professor Joffe’s long-standing opposition to microwaves for radar allowed the publication of the paper. Irrespective of the reasons, the paper is a complete disclosure of the elements of the cavity magnetron. One does not even need to know Russian. It suffices to see the tables giving wavelengths and powers and to think a bit about the drawings of the characteristic electrode shapes. That the drawings showed water-cooled anodes tells one a lot. It was all there. There is a report of the independent invention of the klystron at NII-9 by N D Devyatkov during those same years, but even less was made of it than the magnetron. It was quickly followed by a reflex klystron.

The skepticism that had met Oshchepkov’s Rapid soon hardened into hostility to radio location generally in the form of a report in 1935 by the Red Army Chief of Signals, which asserted on the basis of studies by his own NIIIS-KA that radio location was unrealistic and a waste of time. M N Tukhachevskii, Chief of Ordnance, had been impressed with the possibilities of the new technique, even if it was not satisfactory at the moment, and decided in favor of retaining the infant radar program after a rousing fight. It was, as those familiar with the ways of bureaucracies will recognize, not the end but only the beginning. Life was becoming complicated and dangerous. 

In 1937 Army Commander A I Sedyakin conducted a large air defense exercise using conventional acoustical and optical methods that had a most unsuccessful outcome. He became acquainted with the new radio-location methods during discussions with General M M Lobanov of the GAU, who convinced him of the need to pursue this kind of work. This happy state of affairs came to a quick end in June 1937 when the purge swept military and technical ranks. Both Tukhachevskii and Sedyakin were quickly eliminated, and the NIIIS-KA instigated investigations of NII-9 and SKB with the resulting arrest of NII-9’s chief and the dismissal of Shembel. Bonch-Bruevich, who had attracted Lenin’s favor for his early radio work and who stood highest in electronic prestige, appealed directly to Central Committee Member Andrei A Zhdanov, who used Party influence to preserve the activities of NII-9. SKB was cleaned out and Oshchepkov, along with other radio engineers, went to the Gulag for ten years; he survived, thanks in no small part to academician Joffe, who sent him food packages and letters. 

NIIIS-KA stepped into this to absorb NII-9 and SKB, and once the hated radar project was theirs their attitude changed; they completed the transformation of Rapid into an army prototype called RUS-1 (Rhubarb). It had a truck-mounted transmitter and two truck-mounted receivers that were normally placed about 40 km from the transmitter. These sets, of which only 44 were manufactured in 1940 and 1941, were technically not significantly advanced over the way Oshchepkov had left them and proved to be of little value. 

Following completion of the design of RUS-1, LFTI set about building a pulsed air-warning radar, RUS-2 (Redoubt). It was bi-static equipment of 50 kW working on the 4 m band; transmitter and receiver were mounted on separate trucks having Yagi antennas that tracked one another in direction, although they had to be located about 1000 m apart, the obvious result of not having solved the common-antenna problem. The experimental set started in 1936 was not completed until late 1939, just in time for it to be tried in the Russo-Finnish War where it was successful enough for ten sets to be ordered on a crash basis. RUS-1 failed the same test completely. RUS-2 provides an exception to the general rule for design of meter-wave air-warning sets of the time in using Yagis rather than dipole arrays backed by conducting screens, the directional antenna immediately and instinctively adopted by others. 

Radar – The Soviet Union WWII Part II

In 1938 the first Soviet Pulsed Radar station was tested. In the end of 1939 the development and the test the RUS-2 were concluded. With It aircraft could be located up to 120 kms with a maximum height up to 7 kms.”Redoubt” = mobile station.

When the Luftwaffe opened the Great Patriotic War by destroying a substantial fraction of Stalin’s air force, it was unhindered by Soviet radar. There was only one kind of radar in use when the conflict began: RUS-2, the pulse-type air-warning equipment working on 4 m. That statement discounts completely the few units of the radio screen, RUS-1, the production version of Oshchepkov’s Rapid of 1934, for which the war found no use; yet despite its complete failure during the Finnish War of 1939-1940, 13 RUS-1 sets were manufactured in 1941. RUS-2 proved of value as an air-warning set but suffered from the need to have transmitter and receiver separated by about a kilometer, the antennas of which had to move synchronously. There were six sets in existence when war broke out, but they had no effect on events. The Scientific Research Institute of the Radio Industry (SRI) had devised how to use a common antenna before the war began and had incorporated it into the modification, RUS-2S, but production had not yet begun. 

The radar groups in Leningrad (LFTI, NII-9) and Kharkov (UFTI) soon found their principal problem was evacuation to the east, both of development laboratories and production plants, a process that removed five months of any useful activity. The death in March 1940 of Professor M A Bonch-Bruyevich, who had taken over the leadership of NII-9 after the purges added to the turmoil with which that group had had to deal. The production of only 53 RUS-2S sets during 1942 tells the story more eloquently with numbers than is possible with words. 

The Soviet dismissal of radar at the beginning of the war was not reflected in their other attitudes concerning AA defense. Large cities had hundreds of guns, although their accuracy was poor [4]; the fighter squadrons were based at all-weather fields, much superior to the usual Soviet bases. Moscow was the best defended city in the world and, despite its proximity to the ground fighting, did not suffer serious damage from bombing. Besieged Leningrad suffered in every possible way, but it too put up a very strong air defense. Not surprisingly, the first effective Soviet use of radar was in augmenting the defenses of Moscow and Leningrad. 

An experimental station at Toksovo near Leningrad, used before the war by the Physico-technical Institute (LIPT), assumed immediate tactical functions and was manned by members of its technical staff. Its equipment was RUS-2 but with more power for greater range. Transmitter and receiver were mounted on separate 20 m steel towers; antenna movement allowed a 270° sector of observation. Operation was turned over to military personnel once they had been trained. 

The Research Institute of the Red Army (NIIIS KA), which had overall responsibility for radar, built in the first months of the war a large station for the Moscow air defense, which also used the RUS-2 principle. Specifications differ enough from those of other air-warning sets to be of interest: pulse duration 5060 µs, which allowed a receiver pass-band of only 40 kHz and a repetition rate 50 Hz. It mimicked CH in more than pulse rate, for it too used special demountable vacuum-pumped transmitter tubes; they were designated type IG-8 and made by the Svetlana tube plant. 

Leningrad received numerous air attacks, generally by formations of about 100 aircraft. In 1942 there were 38 such bombings, all of which were stoutly resisted. Radar’s performance opened the eyes of theretofore uninterested military leaders, as 20 000 targets were picked up that year. Attacking squadrons showed up on oscilloscope screens in plenty of time to alarm the city and scramble fighters. On a small scale the air defense of Leningrad was similar to the Battle of Britain, and by the end of 1942 the radar men did not have to beg for attention even though they had to beg for production. RUS-2 and RUS-2S gained reputations as simple, reliable pieces of equipment if only they could have given height information.

The poor showing of early Soviet gun-laying radars did not eliminate this type from the minds of designers, and NII-9 organized an experimental battalion-sized AA unit in October 1941, employed in the defense of Moscow while trying out its new equipment. Initially the battalion had four 75 mm, six 105 mm (German guns obtained during the time of the non-aggression pact) and six 37 mm automatic guns. A team of engineers headed by M L Sliozberg worked directly with the unit. They introduced some experimental sets, Sleep, B-2 and B-3 that worked on 15 cm using cavity magnetrons. The possession of the cavity magnetron, viewed in Britain and America as the ultimate microwave transmitter and the basis for uncounted radar successes in the coming years, seemed to hold no advantages for the Soviets. They were unable to produce a transmitter or local oscillator with sufficiently stable frequency to allow the construction of a heterodyne receiver, which was presumably attempted without a crystaldiode mixer. These gun-laying sets were failures and soon disappeared from the experimental battalion’s gun positions. 

The arrival of British GL mark IIs produced much more interest than the experimental microwave sets. It was not much of a gun-laying set, to be sure, but it was a robust, reliable and well-engineered piece that found use for searchlights, fighter direction and even air warning. The British technicians who had been sent to instruct the Russians, and who had been led to believe that radar was unknown to the recipients, encountered personnel who mastered the equipment rapidly despite a significant language barrier. Sliozberg’s people soon made a copy of it, called SON-2. It proved the favorite Soviet radar, but British imports of GL mark II (generally called SON-2) overwhelmed native production, which produced only 124 during the entire war. 

Later Britain sent 44 microwave GL mark IIIs and America sent 25 SCR-268s, 15 SCR-545s and 49 of the superb SCR-584. A copy of GL mark III appeared as Neptune, and the 584 was copied after the war as SON-4. 

In the summer and fall of 1941 Stalin’s gigantic army and air force suffered a defeat coupled with losses of men and material of magnitude unparalleled in history, but as Hitler’s forces stood before Moscow, everything changed in an almost miraculous manner: (1) Japan was suddenly found to be completely occupied with America and Britain, thereby freeing many fresh Siberian divisions to board trains headed west; (2) the Russian people, who may have been originally indifferent to the downfall of the communist state, had come to realize that the war was against them, not just Stalin; (3) Hitler had also conveniently declared war on the United States, which was to prove a serious distraction for the Nazi state; (4) a Wehrmacht without winter clothing or equipment had been assailed by a winter as deadly as the enemy. In January 1942 Germany found herself in total war, a discomfort theretofore left to her adversaries. Only then did German total mobilization begin. 

During the intoxicating summer of 1941 radar had been, if anything, even less important to the Germans than the Russians. The new weapon, so important in the west, was ignored in the east. The Luftwaffe dominated the air and found little need for equipment in short supply and required for the defense of the Reich against Bomber Command. There had been use of Freya sets before the surprise attack of 22 June to ensure that no Soviet observation planes discovered the large assembly of forces, but few of the clumsy Freyas followed the Blitzkrieg. 

The Soviet air force had to make its recovery in the face of German air superiority, but its slow progress called for correspondingly increased vigilance by the Luftwaffe. A measure of Russian progress can be found in the extent of German radar deployment. As Leningrad became besieged, the air struggle there became more advanced, and Luftwaffe Signals set up Freyas on the islands of Hiiumaa and Saaremann, located to the west of Estonia, to protect German shipping from air raids. A Freya unit covering the south approaches of Leningrad found movement of the set in the terrible winter retreat of January 1942 so difficult that it had to be destroyed. 

In 1941 radar was closely associated with strategic bombing, and its use with and against tactical ground forces lay a few years in the future. The steady growth of Soviet power came from factories beyond the range of German bombers, and the railway network continued to distribute supplies and troops, hindered but not brought to collapse by air raids. The four-engine bomber that General Walter Wever had favored to attack these resources was absent and not going to appear. 

An early German use of radar came from an unexpected quarter-partisan warfare. When it became clear that Germany was the enemy of all those Soviet peoples that did not have some ethnic status that made them acceptable to the Nazis, partisan groups began to make no small amount of trouble behind the German lines. Made up of soldiers cut off but not taken prisoner and civilians escaping and fighting SS terror, these groups were organized and maintained by the Soviet command. Night flying served as the means of bringing vital supplies and officers to these units and the carrying out of information and wounded. Soon an elaborate air transport was established at night. Combating these infiltrating flights proved difficult, in great part because of the primitive Russian equipment used. The most important aircraft was a biplane, paradoxically designated the U-2. Flying slow and low and necessarily observing strict radio silence it was difficult to detect. Radar was obviously called for, and it came as railway radar trains, but an effective counter to the U-2 was never found. 

Russia’s notoriously muddy roads made movement by rail essential for heavy equipment a Freya required 28 horses for movement by typical road and radar trains were the obvious answer, first placed in service in October 1942. They were portable fighter control units that consisted of a Freya for early warning and two Würzburg giants, one to track the enemy and the other to track the interceptor so the controller could bring the two together. Some trains made good use of searchlights. It was the system called Himmelbett in the west. As the air situation deteriorated for the Luftwaffe, the radar trains became more numerous and more important. In 1943 a radar train in the Orel-Bryansk sector took credit for bringing down about 30 planes. 

 (The first radar trains may have been placed in service somewhat earlier in France during the summer of 1942. By that time the activities of the underground were beginning to be troublesome, and light aircraft transported agents and supplies between the continent and England. Finding the resistance personnel was more important than bringing down the airplanes, so railway-mounted equipment that could be moved to suspected places of operation in order to observe where they landed was an obvious answer. It is reported to have led to several arrests.) 

Growing Soviet air power began forcing the Luftwaffe to bomb at night, and their efforts had grown to such an extent that the Soviets began organizing night fighter units in late 1943. These units were not particularly effective because they lacked both airborne and ground radar capable of bringing about interception. 

The absence of strategic bombing in the east meant there was no centralized air defense, so radar use on both sides tended to take on local character and ingenuity. A German bomber group at Shitomir (near Kiev) used two Freyas for night bombing Russian concentrations at locations beyond artillery range. One Freya directed a bomber by radio so as to follow an arc of constant radius while the second controlled the release of bombs. The attacks were not only complete surprises but remarkably accurate.

By the time of the great tank-air battle at Kursk during 511 July 1943 the Soviet air force was something that had to be dealt with, and the Germans assigned five of the nine then existent radar trains to the sector. The Wehrmacht lost decisively. The wreckage of hundreds of aircraft and tanks littered the field, but one Freya was credited with saving Fliegerkorps VIII from complete destruction.

Any Soviet use of radar at Kursk has escaped mention in the sources available. Indeed, Soviet use of radar in general was hardly noticed by the Luftwaffe until 1944 and never reached the stage where countermeasures were employed. They seem to have thought all of the enemy’s radar was of British or American manufacture and been unaware that any of the Russian equipment was of indigenous manufacture. 

German radar found ever wider use on the Eastern Front as ever more equipment became available and the pressure of Soviet air power increased and not just Soviet. The oil fields of Rumania received a generous allotment of AA and fighter units and with them came Freyas and Würzburgs for Flak and fighter control. Their effectiveness is attested by the heavy losses of the American bombers that attacked Ploesti. The saving or at least preventing the capture of the extensive radar deployment in Rumania became a matter of serious concern when Russian forces secured that nation in August and September 1944. 

Such was radar in the east. Compared with the use in the west and at sea it was small indeed, being a mere perturbation on the cataclysmic battles that were fought there. Germany’s deployment was, until near the end, trivial when measured against the air defense system facing the Allies. Russia used it first only in defense of her two largest cities, to what effect it is difficult to say. In the east huge ground forces struggled with air power restricted to army support. It was not until the appearance of remarkably accurate 10 cm equipment, such as SCR-584, that radar showed real value for this kind of warfare. In the hands of ingenious officers the equipment could be of benefit, especially to local fighter squadrons, but these contributions were never decisive. The actions in the deserts of North Africa are apt illustrations of this. Given this tactical background it is difficult to fault the Soviet command for not giving radar a greater priority. Were it not for their demonstrated capacity for confused and self-destructive administration, one might be tempted to attribute wisdom to the Soviet leaders for the low priority given radar. But whether from wisdom or folly, there is little reason to fault the result. The critical industrial strengths required for the manufacture and operation of radar were put to better purpose in communication equipment vital to mobile ground warfare. 

The quality of Soviet radar development before and during the war must be evaluated by what was accomplished against what was attempted. Here is a bewildering confusion of competence at its highest and lowest. Soviet engineers invented the cavity magnetron, a device for which praise in Britain and America exceeds that for any comparable device. That not being enough they invented the klystron independently of the Varians and Hansen. But their attempts at putting them to use failed, owing to an inability to master the lesser arts of microwaves, and resulted in an especially bad gun-laying set that was never produced. The klystron does not seem to have entered a serious Soviet radar design. In meter-wave equipment the advantage of an early entrance was lost. Postwar design started from Allied and captured German sets.

Ilyushin DB-3


The DB-3 went into production at Plant No. 39 in Moscow and Plant No. 18 in Voronezh. To perfect the bomber during series production, Plant No. 39’s experimental workshop was transformed into a design bureau, with Sergei Ilyushin as chief designer. This was simply a formality, because by that time the Ilyushin OKB had already been formed as a united team of designers capable of solving different problems concerning the development and updating of advanced combat aircraft.

From May to October 1937 pre-production DB-3 No. 3039002 underwent state tests at the Nauchno Issledovatelyskii Institut (NIl – scientific and research institute of the WS). Its performance proved to be slightly inferior to that of the prototype. At a weight of 14,550lb (6,600kg) it had a sea level speed of 201mph (325km/h), attained 242mph (390km/h) at 16,400ft (5,000m) and reached its service ceiling in 46 minutes. With such a performance the DB-3 considerably outperformed Germany’s Junkers Ju86D and even the new Heinkel He 111B then under test at Rechlin. The He 111B was 6.2 to 12.4mph (10 to 20km/h) slower at all altitudes and its service ceiling was 4,600ft (1,400m) lower, while its armament was the same and controllability and stability were better.

Not only were the DB-3’s aerodynamics excellent, but its fuel and oil capacity were equal to one-third of its maximum take-off weight. As a result it had ranges of 2,485 miles (4,000km) with a 1,102lb (500kg) bomb load and 1,926 miles (3,100km) with a bomb load of 2,204lb (1,000kg), while the He 111B managed 1,031 miles (1,660km) with 1,653lb (750kg) and 565 miles (910km) with 3,306lb (1,500kg). Early in its successful life the DB-3 gained the high appreciation of its pilots. Particularly notable were its ease to take-off, rapid climb, good stability without any suggestion of yaw, steady level flight (which made it a good bombing platform), tight turns with 40* to 60* of bank, and easy landing approach. It had no dangerous tendencies such as rapid loss of speed, wing stall and arbitrary ballooning during landing. The DB-3 also had good single-engine capabilities, and at a normal flying weight of 15,4321b (7,000kg) could climb and turn in both directions on one engine. However, pilots noted a lack of longitudinal stability owing to the generally accepted aft cg position.

In 1937, with the help of a number of Ilyushin Design Bureau designers including A Belov, V Biryulin, M Yefimenko and A Levin, the two plants manufactured 45 DB-3s, and that year the bomber was introduced into the inventory of the Soviet WS. It considerably outperformed similar bombers built in Germany, England, France and the USA.

Its high performance, especially with regard to range, was proved during two long range flights made by the modified TsKB-30, now named Moskva, during 1938-1939. On one of these, flown on 28/29th April 1939, pilot V Kokkinaki and navigator M Gordienko covered 4,971 miles 8,000km (4,048 miles/ 6,515km in a straight line) non-stop at an average speed of 216mph (348km/h). This was a significant achievement for Soviet aviation at that time. The Moskva’s long-distance flights greatly influenced the development of the DB-3’s airframe, engines and equipment. Moreover, flights by Kokkinaki and many other Soviet pilots enabled piloting techniques for long range flights to be developed and revealed the crew fatigue limits. These aspects also promoted efficient weather survey and communication services.

All of this elevated the combat capabilities of Soviet long-range aviation, based at that time on different variants of the DB-3, which was constantly being improved. In 1938 the M-85 engine was replaced by the M-86 with an augmented rating of 950hp (708kW). This allowed the DB-3’s good take-off performance to be retained in spite of increased weight. The maximum speeds at various altitudes remained the same. From 1938 the bomber’s speed was increased by the installation of M-87As and the use of VISh-3 variable-pitch propellers instead of fixed-pitch units, which meant that engine power was used to best advantage during different phases of flight. The M-87A, which had the same take-off power as the M-86, provided 800hp (596kW) at an altitude of 15,500ft (4,700m).

During tests at the NII WS early in 1939, two bombers produced at Plants Nos. 18 and 39 demonstrated improved performance. At a flying weight of 15,873 to 17,1951b (7,200 to 7,800kg) their sea level speeds were equal to 265 to 270mph (428 to 436km/h) at a critical altitude of 16,300ft (4,960m). The service ceiling had increased to 30,200 to 30,500ft (9,200 to 9,300m), and the time to climb to 16,400ft (5,000m) was 10.7 minutes. The take-off run was 1,148 to 1,312ft (350 to 400m) and the maximum overloaded weight had risen to 21,3751b (9,696kg). In the final test report it was noted that the aeroplanes produced by Plant No. 39 were of higher quality. In 1938 another factory, No. 126 in Komsomolsk, was also converted to DB-3 production, increasing output by 400 aircraft.

DB-3T and DB-3TP

The Ilyushin Design Bureau constantly extended the applications of the DB-3, and the DB-3T variant of 1937 was used as a naval torpedo bomber. By virtue of special external attachment points it could carry a 45-36 type torpedo (the first number denoted the torpedo’s calibre in centimetres, the second its year of introduction into the inventory) with a 440lb (200kg) warhead and a total weight of 2,072lb (940kg). The DB-3T (T – torpedonosyets, torpedo) was equipped to enable the missile to be dropped using either low or high torpedo bombing methods. In the first case the 45-36 AN low altitude aerial torpedo was dropped from 100ft (30m) at a speed of 198mph (320km/h). It was forbidden to drop the torpedo lower or higher because its casing could be cracked when it hit the water or it could sink too deep. Although low altitude torpedo bombing offered the highest probability of destroying the target, it demanded a high degree of piloting skill and good aircraft handling and manoeuvrability. In high altitude torpedo bombing the DB-3T dropped the torpedo from 1,000ft (300m). The missile was parachuted down, and when it touched the water it began to travel in a circle on the target’s course. In addition to its torpedo, the DB-3T could carry the usual bomb load, and could be used as a bomber or for dropping mines. It could also serve as a long-range naval reconnaissance aircraft.

Introduced into the USSR Naval Aviation inventory, the D8-3T became the first mass produced Soviet torpedo-bomber, fully meeting the operational requirements. On its technical basis a new aspect of Naval Aviation, Torpedo Aviation, was born in 1939-1940 for the destruction of enemy vessels by torpedoes and bombs, and also for mining enemy seaways and exits from naval bases.

However, the DB-3T could take off only from land bases, and sometimes these were not readily available, especially in the areas covered by the Northern Fleet. In 1938, therefore, a new version, the DB-3TP (Torpedonosyets Poplavkovyi – torpedo floatplane) was designed. The floats, taken from the Tupolev TB-1 P, naturally reduced the torpedo-bomber’s performance. During tests in the summer of 1938 at a normal flying weight of 16,644lb (7,550kg) and carrying a torpedo, the DB-3TP reached a speed of 213mph (343 km/h) at 13,100ft (4,000m), and its climb rate and service ceiling were also reduced. Even this performance met estimated requirements and was better than the Beriev MDR-5 and Chyetverikov MDR-6 flying-boats. The DB-3TP retained the type’s good handling.

Test pilot Sukhomlin assessed the seaplane thus: ‘The aircraft is well-produced as a torpedo-bomber and naval high-speed bomber. It is fully suited to these roles’. Nevertheless, the DB-3TP was not put into series production owing to operational complications. It was very difficult to load bombs, attach torpedoes and service the engines while the aircraft was on the water.



    Proof-of-concept prototype


    First real prototype. Later modified, including removal of armament, for long-range record attempts as the “Moskva”. It flew from Moscow to Spassk-Dalny (7,580 km (4,710 mi)) in 24 h 36 min (an average speed of 307 km/h (191 mph)) mostly at 7,000 m (23,000 ft) under control of Vladimir Kokkinaki and A. M. Berdyanskij, then from Moscow to Miscou Island (New Brunswick, Canada) in 22 h 56 min. covering 8,000 km (5,000 mi) at 348 km/h (216 mph) average airspeed (Kokkinaki and Mikhail Gordienko).

DB-3 2M-85

    Initial production model

DB-3 2M-86 (DB-3A)

    Engines upgraded to M-86, other minor changes

DB-3 2M-87A (DB-3B)

    Engines upgraded to the Tumansky M-87A


    Torpedo bomber built in 1938, with either the M-86 or M-87 engine, armed with 45-36-AN or 45-36-AV torpedoes.


    Seaplane torpedo bomber built in 1938. No production.


    First major upgrade powered by two M-87B or M-88 engines.

The Soviet Union: Glider Pioneer?

G-11s, along with the Antonov A-7 constituted a majority of Soviet transport gliders. They were mainly used from mid-1942 for supplying Soviet partisans with provisions, weapons, equipment and trained men, towed mainly by SB or DB-3 bombers. Most intensive use was from March to November 1943 in Belarus, in the Polotsk-Begoml-Lepel area, on the Kalinin Front. Several hundred Soviet gliders (of all types) were used in night supply flights there. After landing, the gliders were destroyed and pilots were sometimes returned by aircraft. The only known instance of a glider returning from the field occurred in April 1943, when a famous glider and test pilot Sergei Anokhin evacuated two wounded partisan commanders in a G-11, towed by a Tupolev SB bomber, piloted by Yuriy Zhelutov, on a 10 m (33 ft) short towrope.

Gliders were also used to supply partisans in some areas in 1944 and to transport sabotage groups behind enemy lines. G-11 gliders were also used in at least one small-scale airborne operation, the Dnepr crossing, carrying anti-tank guns and mortars.

A less typical action was an airbridge from Moscow to the Stalingrad area in November 1942, to rapidly deliver anti-freeze coolant for tanks, during the battle of Stalingrad.

The A-7 was considered a successful design, but it had less capacity than the other light glider, the G-11. Moreover, a place for cargo was limited by an arrangement of seats and a presence of cantilevers of a retractable landing gear in the center of a transport compartment. It could transport seven troops (including pilot) or up to 900 kg of cargo.

The G-11 enjoyed relative success as a light transport glider design, having more capacity than the Antonov A-7, and its transport compartment was a better fit for cargo, although light guns could only be carried in parts due to small hatches.

While this glider transport experiment [Russian transport of infantry in gliders attached to bombers] first attracted attention and caused much comment among aviation writers and experts, the military leaders among other great powers took little heed of the glider potential, except for the war-minded Germans.

Just after dark one day in the spring of 1943, gliders took off from an airfield whose name, if it had one, is now lost. Their destination was secret. The Soviet Union was fighting for its life. No one was yet convinced that her armies had conclusively stemmed the German onslaught. The gliders carried Matjus Sumauskas, president of the Supreme Soviet of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, Henrikas Zimanas, editor-in-chief of Komunistas, and seventy others. They were all Lithuanians and members of Operative Group II, organized to launch partisan movements in German-held Lithuania.

Some 600 miles behind German lines, the gliders cut away from their tow planes. It was black below. Some came in to fairly good landings. One crashed, killing all. Zimanas’s glider hit an obstacle and was virtually demolished, with the pilot killed and the passengers badly bruised or severely injured. The accident hurt Zimanas’s spine and leg. Despite his injuries and the arrival of an evacuation aircraft, he remained with the mission, assisting as best he could as a radio operator while the other partisans made their way to the Kazyan Forest. Regaining strength, although limping and in severe pain, Zimanas caught up with the main force in the Kazyan Forest. He then went with it to Lithuania.

Nothing was ever known in the West during the war of these isolated but daring partisan operations behind German lines that were frequently launched with gliders. It was through those missions that the use of transport gliders was finally coming into its own in Soviet military operations, the culmination of years of preparation.

Like the Germans, the Soviets had long been avid gliding and soaring enthusiasts. The Soviet Union was one of the few countries to compete with the Germans with any degree of success in the development of gliding. The meager amount of information allowed to seep out of the Soviet Union gave no idea of the great activity centered around glider development there. Soviet progress appears to have anticipated that of Germany by perhaps as much as five years, a fact of immense historical significance.

In the Soviet Union, the state took a direct interest in soaring. Under its support, Soviet glider pilots began to gain international recognition shortly before World War II. In 1925, the Soviets held their first national glider competition in the Crimea.

While Germany originally used the glider as a subterfuge to improve its aeronautical technology and skill resources, the Soviets embarked upon a substantial glider development program for entirely different reasons. Germany’s interest in the glider was rooted in those of its qualities that could serve military ends and took absolutely no notice of its commercial value. In the Soviet Union, it was the other way around. Military use became a coincidental offshoot. Soviet commercial aircraft could fly passengers and cargo into areas that had no trains and where roads were impassable in bad weather. The aircraft was solving historical communication problems that had reined in domestic development over the centuries. The aircraft was meeting a vital economic and political need at a critical point in the history of the Soviet Union. The Soviet expansion of commercial air transportation strove to keep up with the increasing demand to fly more and more passengers and cargo.

Short in technological skills and lacking the industrial capacity and production know-how to turn out the increasing number of aircraft demanded of a strained economy, the Soviets turned to the transport glider as offering a way to double air-cargo capacity, using substantially less resources in airframe materials, aircraft, engines and fuel than would be necessary to achieve the same cargo lift with powered transport aircraft.

By then, Soviet-built gliders had been towed long distances in single tow. Experiments were started in double and triple tows, with the thought that ultimately a single aircraft could tow many transport gliders carrying passengers in “glider train” formation. So rapidly did they progress, that by 1939 they had managed the art of towing as many as five single-place gliders with a single aircraft, a feat never matched elsewhere and an accomplishment not surpassed outside of the Soviet Union since.

Although Soviet interest focused chiefly on sport gliding in the 1920’s, the government decided to expand Soviet gliding activities in the 1930’s. In 1931, a dramatic upsurge occurred when the Komsomol passed a resolution calling for an unheralded expansion of the gliding movement during the Ninth Party Congress, held in January. The Komsomol announced a threefold purpose in its resolution: first, it sought to build an enormous pool of glider pilots through training programs; second, it hoped to gain useful information for its aeronautical research program through research and development and the testing of new glider models; and third, it was setting out to capture as many world records as it could.

To back up the program, the government built a glider factory in Moscow in 1932. It set production goals at 900 primary trainers and 300 training gliders per year. It named Oleg K. Antonov, an aircraft engineer and designer who was to become famous for his glider designs, to head design and engineering at the plant.

Shortly after the Komsomol resolution was passed, eighty leading glider and light-plane designers assembled at Koktabel. They studied twenty-two glider designs and selected seven for construction and tests to be made in 1932. In retrospect, the pace at which the whole movement progressed gives some indication of the importance the government placed on the program.

In thirty-six days of tests, Soviet glider pilots flew 662 flights, averaging more than an hour each in the seven gliders to be tested. Together with testing conducted on other gliders from distant parts of the Soviet Union, they established six new Soviet records. During that year, V. A. Stepanchenok in a G-9 glider looped 115 times and flew upside down for more than one minute in a single flight. Soviet glider pilots went on to perform new and unexpected aerobatics and carried out long-distance tows and a multitude of other feats. By 1939, Olga Klepikova flew a glider 465 miles to capture the world distance record, a feat that was unbeaten for twenty-two years. On the same occasion, B. Borodin flew two passengers for more than four hours in a single flight and, with that feat, the transport glider was born. It was then up to some perceptive person to recognize the significance of the flight, and it appears that this was not long in happening.

Although Soviet authorities saw the transport glider as a solution to commercial needs for more air lift, they apparently concurrently saw that the transport glider had some military potential. Military and commercial development began simultaneously in the very early 1930’s, perhaps in 1931 or 1932, and ran on closely parallel paths. The Moscow glider factory was their design and production focal point. In 1934, the Moscow glider factory produced the GN-4, a five-place glider that could transport four passengers and was designed for towed flight.

The idea for a multi-passenger towed glider, as opposed to the two-passenger soaring glider already flown, must have blossomed in 1932 or 1933, inasmuch as Groshev (designer of the transport glider GN-4), had one on the drawing board then. The GN-4 appears to have been a modest development compared with others then on the drawing board, for General I. I. Lisov, in his Parachutists—Airborne Landing, published in Moscow in 1968, reveals that as far back as 1932 the work plan for the Voenno Vozdushniy Sily (VVS) design bureau included the G-63 glider, a craft that could carry seventeen soldiers or a like amount of cargo. What is even more remarkable is that the bureau was daring enough to include a requirement for a fifty-man glider, the G-64, which was to be towed by a TB-1 bomber.

While there are those who would criticize such bold statements as an attempt to bolster the Soviet ego with another first or discount them as pure propaganda, there is evidence based on what was to come that the statements did not come from unrealistic fantasy. In 1935, the Soviet magazine Samolet (Flight) discussed the use of gliders for carrying passengers, citing an eighteen-passenger glider, and having a photograph in support. The article goes so far as to give an illustration of a transport glider train drawn by a four-engined aircraft. This would mean that the 1932 VVS design requirement was realized, in part, by 1935 or earlier, since gliders cannot be designed, built and tested overnight. On 9 October 1935, the New York Times reported that a 118-passenger glider with a ninety-two-foot wingspan, the G-3, had been built by the experimental institute in Leningrad and test-flown several times. It was to have been flown from Leningrad to Moscow the same month. This was undoubtedly the glider reported in Samolet.

In his book Without Visible Means of Support, Richard Miller mentions that the Soviets experimented in 1934 with a thirteen-passenger troop glider, grossing 8,000 pounds. In that same year, the Soviets could boast ten gliding schools, 230 gliding stations and 57,000 trained glider pilots.

Around 1934, a new concept took hold, fostered by Lev Pavlovich Malinovskii, head of the Scientific Technical administration of the Grazhdanskiy Vazdushniy Flot (Civilian Air Fleet). Malinovskii conceived the idea of using a low-powered freight glider plane, easy to produce and cheap to operate, that could solve some of Russia’s long-distance fast freight needs. The fully laden glider would carry around a ton of goods and be powered by a single 100-horsepower engine. The engine would assist the tow plane during take-off. Once safely airborne, the glider would cast off and deliver its cargo to a distant terminal under its own power.

Because most of the models were underpowered, only one or two went beyond the experimental stage. Several apparently grew into sizeable ten-passenger models, and there is a strong likelihood that these models, with engines removed, became the first of the larger twenty-passenger transport gliders developed in the Soviet Union and observed during the mid- 1930’s.

While Soviet designers and engineers were busy at the task of creating and producing the new aircraft, military leaders went about the task of building airlanding and parachute forces to use them. By 1933, the first of these formations appeared. The Soviet Union startled the world when 1,200 soldiers landed by parachute with all weapons and equipment during maneuvers around Kiev. Later in the year, aircraft transported a complete division, together with armored vehicles, from Moscow to Vladivostok, a distance of 4,200 miles. Minister of War Kliment Voroshilov was fully justified in stating at a congress in 1935:

“Parachuting is the field of aviation in which the Soviet Union has a monopoly. No nation on earth can even approximately compare with the Soviet Union in this field, far less could any nation dream of closing the existing gap by which we are leading. There can be no question at all of our being surpassed.”

That gliders were used in these maneuvers is not confirmed, although they may have been. Because of the secrecy surrounding them and the fact that they were so similar to powered aircraft in appearance, their presence among the powered aircraft could have passed unnoticed. Terence Otway states, however, that “by 1935, [the Soviet Union] had gone a long way towards creating an effective airborne force, including parachute troops carried in gliders.”

In the Caucasus maneuvers of 1936, the paratroopers participated publicly. From that point forward, however, all exercises and maneuvers of the arm were carried out in strict secrecy. Keith Ayling reports in They Fly to Fight on a large number of personnel carried in gliders, in one instance, in 1936. They were undoubtedly from the same Caucasus maneuver.

After dropping the veil of secrecy over airborne developments, the Soviets did not entirely neglect the fledgling airborne arm, contrary to foreign observer indications. By 1940, they approved an airborne brigade of 3,000 men, of which more than a third were glider troops. By mid 1941, in a doctrinal turnabout, glider troop elements disappeared from Soviet troop lists, although glider manufacture continued. Only recently has information become available that in 1941, just before the war started, the Soviet Union had already built a glider tank transport, the world’s first, which was capable of transporting a light armored vehicle. Shortly after this flight, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and no more experiments with that glider were conducted. However, the daring experiment, far ahead of those of any other nation manufacturing gliders, gives some indication of the extent of the Soviet Union’s interest in, and progress with, the glider as a military tool.

To what extent German military leaders learned from Soviet transport glider developments is not certain, but those developments certainly could not have gone unnoticed, in view of a curious succession of events involving both the Soviet Union and Germany. In a much overlooked clause, the Treaty of Rapallo of 1922 enabled the German military to produce and perfect in Russia weapons forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles. To that end, the Soviets turned over the remote, disused Lipetsk airfield, about 310 miles southeast of Moscow, in 1924, where they established a flying school and also tested aircraft. Through these activities, the Red Air Force gained information about German technical developments.

In 1923, the Germans opened a “Moscow Center” liaison office in Moscow, manned by German officers who reported to the Defense Ministry in Berlin. Junkers and other German aircraft manufacturers built factories in the Soviet Union, staffed by German officers and aircraft engine experts. Many officers, such as August Plock, Hermann Plocher and Kurt Student, who were later to become generals and who occupied important posts in the Luftwaffe, served in the Soviet Union in the 1920’s. General Student, who masterminded Hitler’s glider attack on Eben Emael while an infantry officer, visited the Lipetsk airfield every year from 1924 to 1928.

Three factors strongly suggest that early German development and use of the transport glider followed Soviet developments by three to five years. The Soviets must have had their transport glider on the drawing board perhaps as early as 1932 to enable them to produce their five-passenger GN-4 in 1934 or earlier. The Germans produced their Obs (flying observatory) in 1933 or 1934, a glider that was not a true transport vehicle but closer to a scientific laboratory. Second, foreign observers saw Soviet transport gliders in flight in 1935 or 1936, carrying perhaps as many as fifteen to eighteen passengers. The nine-passenger German DFS 230 glider did not appear before 1938, and it proved to be a substantially smaller model than those seen in the Soviet Union up to that time. Third, the Russians had large airborne organizations in planning in the early 1930’s and actually flew them in the large airborne drop at Kiev in 1935, while it was not until 1938 that the Germans finally organized their 7. Flieger-Division.

Although Soviet military leaders conducted few and only marginally useful air assaults during the war and the glider saw only limited use as a military transport to support these operations, it did play some role.

For the Dnjepr River crossing operations of 24 September 1943, the Soviets planned to use thirty-five gliders to transport heavy guns and equipment. In planning, the glider landings had been sandwiched in between the first and second massed parachute drops. Apparently, the glider phase was not implemented. Apart from this, it was used extensively in partisan support operations and in many raids.

German forces found guerrillas annoying and persistent. Although guerrillas lived off the land to a great extent, the regular military force kept them supplied with weapons and ammunition by glider and, where possible, by powered aircraft. The magnitude of these operations and the importance played by the glider can be judged by the fact that in counterguerrilla operations conducted just in and around Lipel alone, the German forces overran one field that held more than 100 gliders.

Gliders transported rations, weapons, medical supplies and, at the same time, provided partisans with key personnel and important orders and information. Gliders landed by night on emergency airfields and during the winter on the ice of frozen lakes. This support enabled the partisans to carry out successful attacks on railroads, roads, airfields, bridges, convoys, columns of troops, rear area command agencies and even troop units. The Germans suffered heavy losses of personnel and materiel. The Germans flew reconnaissance missions to discover air-drop and landing fields in partisan-held areas, attacked airlift operations wherever they were identified, used deception by setting up dummy airfields and giving fake signals and eventually activated a special antipartisan wing, comprised of 100 Ar 66’s. The results achieved against the guerrillas, especially in the central sector of the front, remained unsatisfactory. In the final analysis, this use of airlift by the Russian Air Force must be considered a success, since the relentless night airlift operations enabled the partisans to carry out their tasks.

After the war, Soviet interest in gliders did not immediately wane, and new models were reported, though sources of these reports are few and hard to find. As late as 1965, the Soviets had three glider regiments, which they have since deactivated.