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"Red Army Guards" from Intelligence Bulletin

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]   A report on the Red Army Guards designation and other unit designations, from the Intelligence Bulletin, March 1946.

[Editor's Note: The following article is information on foreign armies published for Allied soldiers in wartime or immediately postwar. More accurate data on foreign units, tactics and equipment is available in later postwar publications.]


[Red Army Guards]

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.]
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.


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.


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).]
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).]
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 non-Guard unit.

Large Guards formations, such as armies, corps and divisions, usually are composed principally of subordinate Guards units.


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.  

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