Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union
- The war against Nazi Germany, known in the Soviet Union as the Great Patriotic War, cost the Soviet people more than 27 million dead, of whom almost 20 million were civilians. The war could not have been won without the total victory of the Soviet intelligence and counterintelligence services over their Nazi enemy. But a proportion of the losses were self-inflicted by the Soviet security service on the people they protected in an effort to ensure the security of the rear area. Joseph Stalin often ignored good intelligence; his refusal to heed intelligence about the forthcoming German assault was one of the reasons for massive Soviet casualties in the opening battles of the war. Nevertheless, Stalin and his subordinates in the military and intelligence services were able to use the NKVD and Smersh to defeat the German intelligence services, to support a partisan movement behind German lines, and to collect military secrets through human and technical intelligence means. Within six months of the Nazi invasion, the NKVD played a critical role in the Battle of Moscow in defeating the Wehrmacht.As the war progressed, the Soviet services were able to deceive the Nazi enemy repeatedly because of the mastery of the invisible front—the intelligence war between the Nazis and the Soviets. Control of their own rear and penetration of the German military and intelligence establishments allowed Stalin’s military commanders to repeatedly deceive the Nazis: the massive Soviet victory in Operation Bagration in June 1944 was one of a number of victories made possible by strategic deception. The Soviets also made use of maskirovka and radio games deception strategies. According to a recent study of Soviet counterintelligence at war: “The Soviets forged counterintelligence—albeit ruthlessly and certainly not efficiently— into a formidable strategic weapon.”Lavrenty Beria served as Stalin’s security and intelligence generalissimo during the war. He and his subordinates were also deeply involved in the partisan movement. Stalin and Beria also used the NKVD to prevent any possible political or ethnic dissent. Deportations began before the first round of the war: hundreds of thousands of Soviet Poles and Germans were deported in 1939–1941 to exile in Siberia by the security service. Moreover, in 1941–1944, more than 2 million Soviet citizens from the Baltic states, the Crimea, and the Caucasus were deported to Siberia by the security service.Beria used the security services to punish the incompetent and the weak. In early 1943, the NKVD took control of the railroad network behind Marshal Rokossovskiy’s Central Front and executed several managers for inefficiency, under the guise of “sabotage.” Countless more Soviet citizens were executed under various pretexts: a document submitted to Stalin in the first months of the war indicated that more than 10,000 people were executed in the summer and fall of 1941. The NKVD also shot hundreds of political prisoners in jails across the Soviet Union rather than let them fall into the hands of the advancing Germans. In 1945, with victory in sight, military tribunals sentenced 135,056 members of the military for “counterrevolutionary crimes.” Among those condemned were 273 senior officers.The GRU and the NKVD also spied on wartime allies. Both services collected information about Anglo-American strategy, intelligence, and diplomatic services. Another focus was the nascent nuclear weapons program, which the Soviets codenamed Enormoz. The Soviet services also knew about the British Ultra program, which had broken the codes of the Enigma machine. In 1945, 18 Soviet intelligence officers in the United States were running more than 300 sources. Soviet accomplishments in Canada and the United Kingdom were no less impressive.The war created an “ideological truce” within the Soviet Union. All Soviet citizens were made to feel that they were in the struggle against Nazi Germany together. The Soviet poetess Anna Akhmatova noted the strange freedom many felt in those days: “In mud, darkness, hunger, grief, / where death followed our heel like a shadow / we felt such happiness / we breathed such stormy freedom.” To Stalin and his police, the end of World War II presented the challenge of how to regain control of the country. The year of victory was thus a year of repression in the Baltic republics and the western Ukraine, and it was marked by the arrest of countless men and women who had been captured or forced to work in Hitler’s camps or factories. The Great Patriotic War shaped the strategy and priorities of Soviet intelligence during the Cold War. A major issue for both the KGB and the GRU from 1945 to 1991 was the threat of a NATO surprise atomic attack, leading to the RYaN program, which gathered information about possible attack plans. Yuri Andropov, first as KGB boss and then as head of state, insisted that the services provide reporting of a possible “nuclear 22 June,” forcing intelligence officers to provide highly exaggerated information about a possible NATO strike in the fall of 1983.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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