"The use of paratroopers is a fine and intricate art, which is being developed by the
Red Army not as a sport, but as a means of steeling personal courage, and as an
important basis of our military power." Marshal Voroshilov, 1935.
Long before U.S. soldiers began stepping from aircraft in flight to cry
"Geronimo!" as they floated earthward, the U.S.S.R. had a large body of trained
paratroopers. In 1930, the Soviets began to experiment with sky soldiers, and in
1935 unveiled their troopers to the world in a mass jump of 1,200 men at Kiev.
In view of the fact that the Soviet Union was first in development of airborne
troopers as a distinct striking arm, failure of the Russians to make adequate use
of airborne forces in World War II is somewhat surprising. Paratroopers were used
little, and Russian drops seem to have resulted in resounding failure.
No large-scale use of paratroopers, other than as elite infantry shock units in
standard ground missions, was made by the Red Army with the exception of the drop
of two brigades in 1943. Both brigades were almost entirely wiped out in this
mission. Failure in this case was ascribed to the fact that the troopers were
inadequately armed, and to insufficient training of the pilots making the lift. The
troopers were dropped from too great an altitude, and were widely scattered. The
equipment drops also failed.
The fact that the Russians made little use of airborne forces may be ascribed to
several factors. For one thing, there was a critical shortage of aircraft, which
were needed for other purposes, and there was a shortage of air crews trained in
para drops. There was also a need to use the troopers as elite infantry in a purely
ground role during the critical periods prior to 1944, and the airborne soldiers
suffered very high losses in bitter combat, thus shortening the supply of
experienced jumping personnel. Still another reason was the faulty registration
of troopers trained prior to mobilization, with the result that many troopers
were shunted into other type units when mobilization occurred.
Other missions carried out by Red Army paratroopers were generally on a small
scale. Small parachute sections are believed to be attached to armies for espionage
and sabotage purposes. Small groups of troopers have been used in cooperative roles
with partisan groups behind enemy lines, and one entire brigade was dropped near
Smolensk, in 1941, behind German lines. Many of the personnel in this drop were
dressed in civilian clothing, and were expected to operate as Partisans.
Prior to World War II, the Soviet attempted, with very poor results, to use troopers
in the Finnish war. In the occupation of Bessarabia, in 1939, paratroopers in the
strength of a regiment of two battalions, totaling 2,000 men, were dropped ahead
of the main forces to secure key points.
Beyond these small efforts the Russians did not go. It must not he inferred from
their little active use of paratroopers in an airborne role that the Soviets do
not consider them to he of distinct military value. On the contrary, there is much
from which to infer the opposite. Experimentation is still going on, and troopers
are considered as an elite body of troops. In 1945, Izvestia, a Soviet
newspaper, carried a long story telling of the jump of a Lieutenant Colonel Amintaev
from an altitude of over 34,000 feet. This same officer was credited, in the same
article, with a total of 1,643 previous jumps. The article stated that Lieutenant
Colonel Amintaev had made what appears to he the astounding total of 53 jumps in
one day, in order to test the resistance of the human organism.
SPECIAL PRIVILEGES FOR JUMPERS
As in our own army, paratroopers in the Red Army enjoy the status of elite
organizations, special privileges, and extra pay. The later-formed airborne
organizations have been designated as "Guards" units. The "Guards" designation is
normally given only to units after the unit has especially distinguished itself in
combat. In the case of the airborne brigades formed later, however, the title of
"Guards" has been given to the unit when it was organized.
In addition to physical ability, Russian paratroopers must come from parentage that
is irreproachable in the communistic sense, and a large percentage are members of
the Communist Party or of the Komsomol (Communist Youth Association). All those who,
in the course of training, show a lack of will power are immediately transferred to
For the most part, troopers are young. Officers are older than the troops, but are
still the younger officers of the Red Army. The educational level of the members
of the airborne brigades is higher than that of the infantry. According to
regulations, enlisted men must have completed the 5th grade, and officers must have
completed the 7th to 10th grade. By U.S. standard this may seem to be low, but by the
standard of the average of the Red Army, it is quite high.
Extra pay, as received by the Red Army trooper, is based on the jump and the number
of previous jumps completed. For the first jump, 25 rubles is paid in extra
remuneration. For jumps 2 through 10, the sum of 10 rubles is paid for each
jump. Jumps 11 through 25 are paid for at the rate of 25 rubles per jump.
Combat jumps are compensated for at a higher scale. Officers receive a whole month's
pay for each combat jump, while noncommissioned officers receive 500 rubles and other
enlisted men receive 300 rubles.
In order that bonus pay may be compared with regular rates of pay, the pay of a
private of the Red Army may be considered to be 600 rubles per year, or approximately
$120 per year. A rank similar to a private first class gets 1,000 rubles per year, or
approximately S200. A sergeant receives 3,000 rubles per year, or approximately
$600. Thus, for a combat jump, a sergeant would be paid the equivalent of a $100, a
private would receive $60, or half a year's pay. A first lieutenant, who receives
7,700 rubles per year, or approximately $1,500, would receive for a combat jump a
month's pay, or about the same amount that the private would receive as a normal
Paratroopers enjoy privileges in the matter of food, also. A better ration is
furnished the members of the airborne brigades than is general throughout the Red Army.
The course of training for the Red Army sky soldiers lasts approximately 4 months. During
this period, the soldier receives a great deal of regular infantry training in weapons,
tactics, signal communications, map reading, engineer training, artillery training, gas
training, and maneuver. The parachute training comes in the second, third, and fourth
months of the course. Each man makes five or six jumps before he is considered a
trained parachutist, although he is awarded his parachutist emblem after his first
jump. The first three jumps may be made from a captive balloon and the remainder
There is no special training school such as our own at Fort Benning, and training
is given within the unit. There is, however, a special training center for officers,
where the course lasts from 5 to 6 months. There, courses are graded according to
rank and duties. It is interesting to note that some regular ground officers are
detailed to these schools, and, in the course for platoon commanders, officers of the
ground troops are trained on the same level as noncommissioned officers of the airborne
brigades. This fact again speaks for the higher level of the airborne troops.
Many more officers are trained than are needed so that a definite selection of the
better officers can be made, and it is often found that officers who have commanded
battalions of infantry are found as company commanders in the airborne forces.
The physical condition of the men is good. Almost without exception they can endure
the required day's march of 50 miles. Discipline is strict.
At the termination of the training period, large-scale combat exercises are held,
with several brigades taking part.
Within the Guards Airborne Brigades (Red Army short designation—VDV") the
battalion is the tactical unit. The battalion consists of three rifle companies of
115 men each, one machine gun company of 89 men, one trench mortar battery of 92
men, one antitank rifle company of 112 men, and one platoon each of engineers,
signal communications, and reconnaissance troops. Total battalion strength is 699 men.
Each VDV rifle company has four platoons of three squads each. Three platoons are
rifle platoons and the fourth is a machine gun or mortar platoon. The mortar
company is equipped with six 82-millimeter mortars.
The VDV brigade consists of four battalions of the organization detailed above, with
a headquarters containing a gas platoon, medical section, and band. VDV brigade
strength is between 3,500 and 4,200 men.
Officers, noncommissioned officers, and certain designated men are armed with
submachine guns. Officers also are equipped with a pistol. Other men, with the
exception of special "sharpshooters who are armed with special sharpshooter rifles, are
armed with rifles or carbines. Hand grenades are handed out in unlimited number.
Each rifle company is equipped with nine light machine guns and
three 50-millimeter mortars.
"STAND IN THE DOOR!"
Operational jumps are done at night. In particularly urgent cases, day jumps may
be made by small parties, but it is not done if it can be avoided. Jumping altitudes
are from 500 to 1,000 feet for day jumps, and from 1,300 to 1,900 feet at night.
The time necessary to release a stick of jumpers varies with the type of plane used
and the degree of training of the jumpers. With one type plane, 18 men may be
dropped in 18 to 20 seconds, though the Russians emphasize that poorly trained
men may require as much as 90 seconds to clear the plane. With another type
plane, 15 well-trained men may be dropped in 5 to 7 seconds. Some Soviet planes
used for airborne drops are equipped with double doors and jumpers leave the plane
from both sides.
Parachutes used by enlisted men are generally square cotton chutes with an area
of approximately 70 square yards. It is semiautomatic in operation, and is also
equipped with a handle release for emergency use. Enlisted men do not use reserve
Officers use a round chute, also of cotton, with approximately the same area as
that used by enlisted men. It also is equipped for both hand and semiautomatic
operation. Officers, however, are equipped with a silk reserve chute.
In training, the "PD-6" chute is used. This is the same chute used by officers. For
operational jumps, however, the square "PD-41" chute is used, since it can be jumped
from much lower altitudes than can the PD-6 because of its faster opening action.
Lined up for pre-jump inspection, these Red Army troopers wear regular infantry
dress. Several types of chutes may be seen. In general, enlisted men do not use
reserve chutes except on qualifying jumps.
The square parachute of the Red Army is equipped with a "köli" (keel), which
is arranged by the jumper to turn the chute into the wind, and which cuts down on
oscillation or swinging, thus making a very stable chute.
A cotton chute with a load capacity of approximately 250 pounds is the standard
equipment chute. Other types are used for special equipment.
The uniform of the VDV soldier is the same as that for regular Red Army infantry,
though paratroopers are issued only new clothing. There is also a special parachute
infantry coat which has a fur collar and which is covered with a waterproof fabric.
The mission of airborne troops is considered by the Soviets to include the
following: supporting the advance of their own troops; cutting the enemy
routes of retreat; blocking the enemy reserves; isolation or destruction of
enemy headquarters and rear echelons; the capture of key points; the forming
of bridgeheads; capture of staffs and the capture of airplanes; and the protection
of sea landings by securing stretches of coast line.
For small groups, missions are considered to be the execution of
reconnaissance, sabotage work, and the support of Partisan groups.
Great emphasis is placed on cooperation with Partisans by airborne
groups. Paratroopers are expected and encouraged to operate as Partisans
themselves when the primary mission is accomplished. Indeed, the primary
mission may be that of reinforcing Partisan groups, or Partisan operations only.
The Soviets note that the large-scale employment of paratroopers may especially
be used to advantage in winter, particularly in forests and mountain terrain. To
this end, many VDV units are trained and equipped with skis. These are dropped
with the men, or later at the place of assembly.
The VDV troops are trained in taking advantage of snow cover and severe cold
in executing their mission. Emphasis is placed on the fact that security troops are
normally placed on the roads during winter, thus ski-equipped paratroopers may
make quick, surprise assaults on the flanks of a main body.
Troops are warned about using the same trail twice. They are instructed in
doubling back on their own trail to set an ambush, leaving false trails,
and other means of hiding their true route and ultimate destination from
discovery by observation of ski trails.
VDV troops are given training in living in severe cold, and in means of
improvising shelter. They are also given training in first aid in severe cold.
That bug-a-hear of all parachute operations, quick assembly on the ground, is
provided for in Russian training. In order to cut scattering to a minimum,
extraordinary precautions are taken. Lighter men are dropped first in the
stick, and heavier men last, in attempting to concentrate the landing area. The
Soviets expect that an average plane load will be landed in an area approximately
200 yards by 100 yards under normal conditions.
These troopers, trained in winter warfare, reflect the hardy physical specimens
selected for elite airborne units. All are armed with submachine guns, though such
is not the normal distribution of weapons in the airborne brigades.
Paratroopers may be extremely effective in executing sabotage missions in the
enemy rear. These troopers are preparing to blow rails on an enemy supply line
after skiing from the drop zone. Soviet troopers are trained in winter warfare.
The normal method of assembly is as follows: The first men to jump go
50 yards in
the direction in which the plane was flying. The last men, upon landing, go
in the opposite direction. In between they would normally find the other jumpers. They
assume that it will take about 20 minutes to assemble a plane load in this manner.
Platoons are normally jumped from two planes which fly closely together to minimize
scattering and drift. Assembly of a platoon is assumed to take 50 minutes.
Assembly of a company is carried out with the accent on preventing the enemy
from determining the place of assembly. Prior to the jump, the company commander
informs his company of the assembly area. Immediately after landing, the company
commander proceeds to that area, where he leaves a man with instructions for the
platoons. The instructions may be something on the order of "3 miles,
azimuth of 90 degrees." At the second place, the company commander
As the platoons are assembled individually under the control of the platoon
leader, the man stationed at the initial assembly area gives the platoon leader
the instructions. The platoon then proceeds to the second area where the guide
meets them and guides them to the third and final assembly area. In each of the
first two assembly areas, the guides may use a weak flash to signal their position
to the others, but at the third and final area no such signal is made. This
procedure safeguards disclosure of the company assembly point if some of the men
should fall prisoner.
The battalion normally does not assemble, but the company commander, or his
representative, goes to a predesignated spot from which they are guided to the
battalion staff. There they get their orders, while their companies wait in their
individual assembly points, or move in the direction previously ordered by the
battalion order. Under certain circumstances the company may receive its final
operational order before the jump, but this is not the usual practice since the
Soviets go to great lengths to keep the operation secret. In some cases, the men
have not even been told they were on an operation, and have thought, until landing,
that they were on practice missions.
The Russians assume that it will take 4 hours to assemble the entire battalion
Since, in combat operations, scattering is normally greater than in training
maneuver, and the orderly assembly may be interfered with, the assembly may be
done differently. Special signals may be devised for assembly. Voice signals,
special light signals, and all kinds of other signals such as smoke, flares,
etc., may be used.
Equipment bundles are dropped, whenever possible, in the center of a stick
landing area. Baggage is often dropped before the men, some of it
without chutes. If it is not within the landing area, the men are instructed
to form into a chain with 5 yards between each man to sweep the area.
These members of a Red Army parachute organization are machine gunners
and are equipped with Degtyarev light machine guns, Model 1928. Some of the
weapons are equipped with flash hiders, while the gun at lower right is fitted
with a muzzle-cap.
Once assembled, normal infantry tactics are used. The tactical unit is the
battalion. The company seldom is used on independent missions.
At this time, there is little information available on airborne forces as
distinguished from purely parachute organizations. What part the glider and
air-landed troops play in the Russian organization is still largely a matter
of conjecture. It is known that there are provisions for glider forces in the
Red Army. In 1935, an entire division was transported by air from Moscow to
Vladivostok. Included in this air movement were some light tanks. The Germans
seemed to believe that the Soviets are instituting a light tank battalion in
the new VDV brigades.
The organization and role of Russian parachutists has continually changed since
the first large mass public jump in 1935. In the late years of World War II, the
new VDV brigades were organized with a cadre from a small group of higher ranking
officers and a few previously trained paratroopers. Most of the latter were salvaged
from hospitals where they had been sent as the result of wounds suffered in normal
ground combat operations. Since that time, provision has been made to train new men
and to retain control over them by the airborne forces.
Continuing interest has been shown since the organization of the VDV brigades. It
is probable that more changes will take place in organization and tactics on the
basis of the slight war experience of the Soviets, and on the basis of what
information is available about U.S. and British airborne operations.
The Russians have long realized the potentialities of vertical envelopment—longer
than have the other nations. It is not likely that they will neglect an arm which has
shown itself to be of high value in certain situations, both defensive and
particularly offensive. It is probable that airborne troops will remain an elite
force within the Red Army, and a force which must be soberly considered in any
estimate of the Soviet military potential.