The Penal Battalions
Defection was a serious problem in the Red Army, particularly in the
of the war, and the Soviets countered it with their own form of military
In May 1942 the NKVD* organization was
L.P. Beria the chief of internal security, to deal specifically with
deserters. NKVD was given enormous power to deal with those suspected
of disloyalty and their families, including that of execution without
A new guidance on penal battalions was also published. By May 1942
Russian front commander had ten to fifteen penal battalions at his
The battalions were headed by staffs or ordinary soldiers and officers.
Discipline was enforced by a guard company. Staff and guards were highly
paid and got special pension benefits for this unpleasant and sometimes
dangerous work. The penal units (not only battalions)were used
and were not allowed weapons until they entered the line.
All soldiers in penal units knew they have the only two chances:
to win or to be killed. (The famous 16th Army of Rokossovsky was
They often attacked through minefields as "tramplers", whose bodies
score marked the passage of the Red Army through a field. In the assault
"Cauldron" at Stalingrad sixteen penal battalions were concentrated
in the 21st
Soviet Army area and twenty-three in the 65th Army area on the Don
Official Soviet army casualties during the war were listed as 20 million
but were actually much higher, including the penal battalions, whose
statistics were not kept. Gorbachev gave another figure, 27 million,
1991. In most Soviet attacks, several penal battalions were completely
* About NKVD : Narodniy Komissariat Vnutrennikh
Del : The Ministry of Internal Affairs
January 1, 1941 - 3rd Section of GUGB (P.V.Fedotov)
January 1, 1942 - 2nd Section of NKVD (P.V.Fedotov)
January 1, 1943 - 2nd Section of NKVD (P.V.Fedotov)
January 1, 1944 - Section of Counterespionage "SMERSh"
January 1, 1945 - Section of Counterespionage "SMERSh"