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A History Of Spetsnaz Page 4

The Inside Story Of The Soviet Special Forces

A History Of Spetsnaz Page 4

It is known that terrorist techniques were already well advanced. For example, a mine had been developed for blowing up railway bridges as trains passed over them. However, bridges are always especially well guarded, so the experts of the Razvedupr and the Engineering Directorate of the Red Army produced a mine that could be laid on the tracks several kilometres away from the bridge. A passing train would pick up the mine which would detonate at the very moment when the train was on the bridge.

To give some idea of the scale of the VDV, on manoeuvres in 1934 900 men were dropped simultaneously by parachute. At the famous Kiev manoeuvres in 1935 no less than 1188 airborne troops were dropped at once, followed by a normal landing of 1765 men with light tanks, armoured cars and artillery. In Belorussia in 1936 there was an air drop of 1800 troops and a landing of 5700 men with heavy weapons. In the Moscow military district in the same year the whole of the 84th rifle division was transferred from one place to another by air. Large-scale and well armed airborne attacks were always accompanied by the dropping in neighbouring districts of commando units which operated both in the interests of the security of the major force and in the interests of Razvedupr.

In 1938 the Soviet Union had six airborne brigades with a total of 18,000 men. This figure is, however, deceptive, since the strength of the 'separate reconnaissance units' is not known, nor are they included in that figure. Parachutists were also not trained by the Red Army alone but by 'civilian' clubs. In 1934 these clubs had 400 parachute towers from which members made up to half a million jumps, adding to their experience by jumps from planes and balloons. Many Western experts reckon that the Soviet Union entered the Second World War with a million trained parachutists, who could be used both as airborne troops and in special units -- in the language of today, in spetsnaz.

A continual, hotly contested struggle was going on in the General Staff of the Red Army. On what territory were the special detachments to operate -- on the enemy's territory, or on Soviet territory when it was occupied by the enemy?

For a long time the two policies existed side by side. Detachments were trained to operate both on home territory and enemy territory as part of the preparations to meet the enemy in the Western regions of the Soviet Union. These were carried out very seriously. First of all large partisan units were formed, made up of carefully screened and selected soldiers. The partisans went on living in the towns and villages, but went through their regular military training and were ready at any moment to take off into the forests. The units were only the basis upon which to develop much larger-scale partisan warfare. In peacetime they were made up largely of leaders and specialists; in the course of the fighting each unit was expected to expand into a huge formation consisting of several thousand men. For these formations hiding places were prepared in secluded locations and stocked with weapons, ammunition, means of communications and other necessary equipment.

Apart from the partisans who were to take to the forests a vast network of reconnaissance and commando troops was prepared. The local inhabitants were trained to carry out reconnaissance and terrorist operations and, if the enemy arrived, they were supposed to remain in place and pretend to submit to the enemy, and even work for him. These networks were supposed later to organise a fierce campaign of terror inside the enemy garrisons. To make it easier for the partisans and the terrorists to operate, secret communication networks and supplies were set up in peacetime, along with secret meeting places, underground hospitals, command posts and even arms factories.

To make it easier for the partisans to operate on their own territory a 'destruction zone' was created, also known as a 'death strip'. This was a strip running the length of the Western frontiers of the Soviet Union between 100 and 250 kilometres wide. Within that strip all bridges, railway depots, tunnels, water storage tanks and electric power stations were prepared for destruction by explosive. Also in peacetime major embankments on railway lines and highways and cuttings through which the roads passed were made ready for blowing up. Means of communication, telephone lines, even the permanent way, all were prepared for destruction.

Immediately behind the 'death strip' came the 'Stalin Line' of exceptionally well fortified defences. The General Staff's idea was that the enemy should be exhausted in the 'death strip' on the vast minefields and huge obstacles and then get stuck on the line of fortifications. At the same time the partisans would be constantly attacking him in the rear.

It was a magnificent defence system. Bearing in mind the vast territories involved and the poor network of roads, such a system could well have made the whole of Soviet territory practically impassable for an enemy. But -- in 1939 the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact was signed.

The Pact was the signal for a tremendous expansion of Soviet military strength. Everything connected with defence was destroyed, while everything connected with offensive actions was expanded at a great rate, particularly Soviet sabotage troops and the airborne troops connected with them. In April 1941 five airborne corps were formed. All five were in the first strategic echelon of the Red Army, three facing Germany and two facing Rumania. The latter were more dangerous for Germany than the other three, because the dropping of even one airborne corps in Rumania and the cutting off, even temporarily, of supplies of oil to Germany meant the end of the war for the Germans.

Five airborne corps in 1941 was more than there were in all the other countries of the world together. But this was not enough for Stalin. There was a plan to create another five airborne corps, and the plan was carried out in August and September 1941. But in a defensive war Stalin did not, of course, need either the first five or the second five. Any discussion of Stalin's 'defence plans' must first of all explain how five airborne corps, let alone ten, could be used in a defensive war.

In a war on one's own territory it is far easier during a temporary retreat to leave partisan forces or even complete fighting formations hidden on the ground than it is to drop them in later by parachute. But Stalin had destroyed such formations, from which one can draw only one conclusion; Stalin had prepared the airborne corps specifically for dropping on other people's territory.

At the same time as the rapid expansion of the airborne forces there was an equally rapid growth of the special reconnaissance units intended for operations on enemy territory.

The great British strategist and historian B. H. Liddell Hart, dealing with this period, speaks of Hitler's fears concerning Stalin's intentions, referring to 'a fatal attack in the back from Russia'.3 And moves by the Soviet Union in June 1940 did evoke particular nervousness in the German high command. Germany had thrown all her forces against France at that time, and the Soviet Union rushed troops into the Baltic states and Bessarabia. The airborne troops especially distinguished themselves.

In June 1940 the 214th Soviet airborne brigade was dropped with the idea of seizing a group of aerodromes in the region of Shaulyai in Lithuania, under a hundred kilometres from the East Prussian border.   continued next page...

[This is an excerpt from "The Inside Story Of The Soviet Special Forces" by By Viktor Suvorov]

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