Ethnic-Based Units in Soviet Army in World War II Far Less Effective than Moscow Often Claims
August 5 – Because non-Russians form an increasing share of the Russian armed
services, ever more of them and of Russians as well are looking back to the
times when the Soviet government formed military units along nationality lines,
less in the chaotic days of the Civil War than during World War II.
units in many cases, however, existed more on paper than in reality, historian
Aleksandr Brazhnik writes; and consequently, their celebration as possible
models for the future should be treated more skeptically than is all too often
the case, especially among non-Russians (russian7.ru/post/kak-srazhalis-sovetskie-nacionalny/).
were nationality-based units in the Soviet military until 1938 when Moscow
banned them because of its conviction that advances in military technology made
a unitary approach necessary.But three
years later, in the wake of the German invasion, the Soviet government changed
its mind, and formed 66 national military units, half of whom saw combat.
November 1941, the Defense Committee of the USSR called for the formation of
national cavalry divisions consisting of volunteers from Central Asia,
Kalmykia, Bashkiria, the Cossack regions and the North Caucasus. It was planned
to establish 19 such divisions, but only six were created: the Tajik, Turkmen,
Uzbek, Kalmyk, Bashkir and Kabardino-Balkarian.
simply weren’t enough men from the others who knew Russian, and some Soviet
commanders felt that many of these people lacked military spirit.At the end of 1942, Moscow ended the draft
among North Caucasians and the formation of national units from that region was
Many of the
national units were deployed in the rear to guard key installations. One prominent
exception was the Kalmyk units which were sent to fight in various fronts. “Part
of the national subdivisions existed only on paper.” That is, they were called
national units but were filled overwhelmingly by Russians either from the
outset or after heavy losses.
to Brazhnik, “the only subdivision of the Red Army which over the course of the
war preserved its ethnic composition was the 88th separate Chinese rifle brigade;
But it fought against the Japanese and only in August-September 1945.”
numerically small peoples of the North and Siberia were not drafted, but some
of their volunteers achieved distinction as snipers. But according to the
historian, many of them didn’t understand the nature of the ideological
struggle between communism and Nazism and thus were less reliable than might otherwise
have been the case.