Military history


Front, when written with a capital letter refers to the Soviet equivalent of an army group, for example, Central Front, Western Front or Stalingrad Front. A Front was commanded by a colonel general or marshal later in the war and usually consisted of between four and eight armies.

Frontoviki, is the Red Army term for soldiers with real experience of fighting at the front.

GLAVPUR (Glavnoye politicheskoye upravleniye), was the main political department of the Red Army, headed for most of the Great Patriotic War by Aleksandr Shcherbakov. It was a Communist Party organisation, controlling the political officers and political departments – the commissar system first instituted during the Russian civil war to watch commanders, of whom many had been tsarist officers, and ensure that they were not secretly in league with the Whites. Commissars, or political officers and instructors, were not part of the NKVD, but worked with them on cases of suspected disaffection.

Gold Star, a popular term for the medal of Hero of the Soviet Union.

Hero of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union’s highest award for valour and distinguished service, consisted of a small gold bar with red ribbon from which hung a gold star.

Izba, was a peasant house, or log cabin, consisting usually of one or two rooms. The window frames were often decorated with ornamental carving.

Komsomol, acronym for the Communist Youth movement. Membership could extend until around the age of twenty, so there were many active Komsomol cells within the Red Army. Children joined the Young Pioneers.

Muzhik, archetypal Russian peasant.

NKVD (Narodnyi Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del – People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs), a direct descendant of the Cheka and the OGPU secret police.

NKVD Special Departments were attached to Red Army formations in a counter-intelligence role, which in Stalinist terms meant looking for treason within as much as espionage without. Their role was also to investigate cases of cowardice as well as ‘extraordinary events’ – anything deemed to be anti-Soviet – and provide execution squads when necessary. The Special Departments were replaced in the spring of 1943 by SMERSh, Stalin’s acronym for smert shpionam, or death to spies.

OBKOM, acronym for the Oblast (or Regional) Party Committee.

Political officers,politruks, or political instructors – see GLAVPUR.

RAIKOM, acronym for local Party Committee.

Stavka, the general staff, a name which Stalin resuscitated from the tsarist command in the First World War. He, of course, was commander-in-chief.

Ushanka, a typical Russian fur hat with flaps tied up over the crown.

Valenki, large felt snowboots.

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