The awarding of medals and citations for valor and distinguished service figures
prominently in boosting Red Army morale. A Soviet soldier whose army work consists
chiefly of baking pies in an officers' mess may be the proud wearer of a
"Distinguished Cook" badge. Another Red Army G.I. (Krachhoapmeeu) may sport the
Red Star, a myriad of campaign ribbons, and a "Distinguished Sniper" badge. Pride of
military achievement is inherent among all warriors, and one of the most valued
designations a Soviet soldier can earn is to be cited as a "Guardsman." Besides
wearing the distinctive Guards badge, the soldier enjoys a great amount of prestige
and, moreover, receives double pay.
Guards units are picked Red Army troops who have distinguished themselves by their
excellent training, discipline, and courage in battle. The Guards title in the
Red Army is significant not only because it was sometimes used during World War II as
a means of restoring impaired morale among badly cut up units, but also because the
honor combines the traditional Guards of the old Czarist army with the memory of the
Soviet Red Guards of 1918.
Under Peter the Great the first Guards
regiments (Preobrazhensky and Izmailovsky) were
established; others were created in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Czarists Guards
were elite units with resplendent uniforms, rigid training, and great traditions. The
term "Red Guards" was a designation first applied by Lenin to the groups of armed urban
workers who supported the Soviets after the October Revolution. These Red Guards were
absorbed into the Red Army early in 1918 and lost their separate identity.
|These tankers can be spotted as Guardsmen by the Guards badge on their right
breasts. Guards units are so designated on their colors and standards. These
Red Army men conform to their custom of following the inspecting party with
their eyes. They haven't painted Guards badges on the tanks, but many do.|
WORLD WAR II REVIVAL
On 18 September 1941, the 100th, 127th, 153d and 161st Rifle Divisions were
redesignated 1st through 4th Guards Rifle Divisions. This establishment of
Red Army Guards units occurred at a time when the Soviet Government was
endeavoring to counteract the effects of initial reverses by associating
its defensive war with all the greatest days and traditions of Russia's
military past. The war with Germany was termed the Fatherland War; new orders
and decorations named for great soldiers of Russia's past were created; and
Russian patriotism was drawn upon heavily to furnish the steadfastness and
energy necessary to stop and drive back the German invaders.
The awarding of Guards titles in the Red Army is rather elastic. Units from entire
armies down to independent battalions can receive the honor. Exceptions to the
general rule are the rocket-launcher regiments, all of which have the designation
Guards Mortar Regiments as distinguished from ordinary mortar regiments armed
with mortars, and the 10 Guards airborne divisions whose employment has been
primarily as shock infantry and not as airborne troops.
Non-Guards units, upon conversion to Guards status, are renumbered in the
Guards series; during the war their old numbers were often reassigned to newly
activated units. Tank armies, on the other hand, retain their old numbers upon
conversion to Guards tank armies.
GUARDS DESIGNATION BOOSTS MORALE
The award of the Guards title to restore impaired morale is reflected in the
fact that Guards units, in some cases, did not demonstrate superior fighting ability
during the war, and were not specially used as shock troops. However, the
Tables of Organization and Equipment of Guards rifle divisions are slightly stronger
than those of non-Guards divisions, and officer replacements are assigned to Guards
units on a preferential basis.
The great majority of Soviet rifle Divisions to receive the Guards designation were
renamed during late 1941, 1942, and early 1943; the
last rifle division to become a Guards unit received the title in October
1943. Tank, artillery, and other units continued to be renamed Guards for some
months after that. It is believed that no ground units were converted to Guards
after early 1944.
|Red Banner awards to units have been important morale raisers. The master
sergeant shown here sports a Red Banner award (2d from right). His other
morale-raising decorations are (from left): Distinguished Sniper. Red Star
(equals a "V" Bronze Star), and Order of Glory 1st Class (equals our DSC).|
Red Army pilots raked in the hardware, just like pilots of other forces. This
Guardsman has the Red Banner twice, and the Gold Star (top of left breast; the
equivalent of the Congressional Medal). On his left pocket is the Order of the
British Empire, won protecting Lend-Lease convoys from the Luftwaffe.
About 20 percent of Soviet rifle divisions became Guards units and as many as
30 percent of tank and mechanized units; the title also was liberally awarded
to artillery units, air units, and special troops. Almost all of the Red Army's
cavalry has been renamed as Guards units.
Individuals assigned to units at the time the units became Guards automatically
became Guardsmen and retain the title even if they are later transferred to a
Large Guards formations, such as armies, corps and divisions, usually are
composed principally of subordinate Guards units.
OTHER MORALE BUILDERS
Contrasting with the Guards title is the designation "shock" which was applied
to five armies in 1941 and 1942. These shock armies originally were specially
reinforced and their title was a correct description of their intended role. In
general they remained active armies, somewhat stronger than average, even after
the original distinction of being shock units was lost.
Another morale-building decoration is the "Distinguished" badge. These badges
are awarded to all kind of specialists for outstanding work: cooks, snipers,
mortar men, scouts, etc.
An important distinction in the Red Army is possession of the Red Banner, which
is awarded to units for outstanding bravery and remains perpetually with the unit
regardless of changes in the name or number of the organization. Members of
Red Banner units are considered under marked obligation to serve with
distinction. Should the banner be lost in battle because of faintheartedness, the
commander and all officers are subject to court-martial, and the unit is broken up.
In addition, units were renamed after the cities and towns which they liberated; for
example, one may meet the Krasnograd 115 Antitank Guards Regiment, which may also
be the proud possessor of the Order of the Red Banner.