The Officer's Path
How to Control Them
I arrived at divisional headquarters early in the morning. The duty officer, a Lieutenant-Colonel, was welcoming. He had not slept all night and he might well have told me, peevishly, to go to hell. As it was, my brand-new lieutenant's shoulder-boards seemed to strike a chord in his memory, and he just smiled to himself and said, `Go out and take a walk for half an hour or so. It's still a bit early.'
Half an hour later I returned to divisional HQ and was taken straight to the office of the head of the personnel department. He, too, was pleasantly welcoming. He had been sent my personal file a month earlier. After I had finished my training, I had taken my first leave as an officer, like all my companions from the military training college, but my file was already lying in front of this personnel officer, on that table, and at night it had been put in that safe over there. Probably he knew me better than I knew myself. He took a long look at me and then asked one question, which I had, of course, been expecting:
`How about changing to First Specialisation?'
Each military trade is referred to by a number. Before the war there were about 150 of them. Nowadays there are more than 1,000. But all-arms commanders are all First Specialisation men-and they are the ones who ensure that all the different arms of service and Armed Services work together properly. Those who command motor-rifle platoons, companies, battalions, regiments, divisions and all-arms Armies, Fronts and Strategic Directions are all First Specialisation officers. The Supreme Commander, too, has the same background. I am a tank officer and I love tanks, but now they are offering me an infantry job-one which is more difficult, but which has better prospects. The cushy jobs are always full, but there is a constant and acute shortage of officers in the infantry. Platoons are commanded by sergeants, because there are not enough lieutenants. In the infantry, one's chances of promotion are very good, but they are never able to find enough people who are prepared to put up with the hardships of infantry life. So they often ask officers with other specialisations-officers with tank, anti-tank and mortar training-this question.
`I am in no hurry. You've got time to think it over-and it is something you need to think about.' Nevertheless, the personnel officer looks at me expectantly. I do not usually take long to make up my mind. I stand up and say, decisively, `I wish to transfer to First Specialisation.'
He likes my reaction, perhaps not because he has succeeded so easily in getting me to volunteer for such a hellish job, but simply because he respects a positive attitude.
`Have you been able to have any breakfast yet?'-his tone alters.
`There's quite a good cafe opposite Divisional HQ. Why don't you look in there? Meet me there at 10 o'clock and I'll take you to the divisional commander. I'll recommend you for a company straight away. I knew you would accept. In the divisional tank regiment you would only get a platoon and you'd have to do three years there before there was any prospect of promotion.'
The order appointing me commander of the 4th motor-rifle company of the Guards motor-rifle regiment was signed at 10.03 hours. Already by 10.30 I was at regimental headquarters. The regimental commander looked disapprovingly at my tank badges. I could see him thinking-a lot of you crooks wangle yourselves jobs in the infantry to see what you can get out of it. He asked me some standard questions and then told me I could take over the company.
The 4th Company had already been without a commander for three months. Instead of five officers it had only one, a lieutenant who was in command of the first platoon. He had graduated from his military training college the previous year, had commanded a platoon for six months and had been given command of the company. But then he had taken to drinking heavily and had been returned to his platoon. Equipment? The company had none. In the event of mobilization a regiment would receive agricultural lorries to do the job of armoured personnel carriers, but in peacetime the regimental commander has a number of APCs at his disposal, and these are used for the combat training of individual companies and battalions.
There were 58 NCOs and other ranks in the company, instead of the full complement of 101-the division was being kept below strength. Most of the company spoke Russian. Discipline was poor. Demobilization was approaching-an order would be coming from the Minister immediately after the inspection. In anticipation of this, the oldest soldiers had become slack, putting pressure on the scum, not to make them work hard but to get them to fetch vodka. There were 19 of these senior soldiers in the company. Their sergeants found them almost uncontrollable. The inspection was to begin in four days' time.
At a meeting that evening the regimental commander presented me to his hundred or so officers, who looked at me without particular interest. I clicked my heels and made a small bow.
The only subject discussed at the meeting was the forthcoming inspection. `And just in case the idea should occur to anyone-there is to be no cheating-better the truth, however unpleasant, than some elaborate cover-up. If I hear of any attempt to deceive the commission, to try to make things look better than they are, the officer concerned will lose his job and will be put under immediate arrest!' I liked this straightforward approach. That was the proper way to do things. It was quite wrong to sweep things under the carpet. The other officers nodded in agreement. The regimental commander finished his address and looked towards his chief of staff, who smiled jocularly. `Company commanders 20 rubles each, deputy battalion commanders 25, battalion commanders 30 and the rest know what they should give. Give your donation to the finance officer. I want to emphasise once again, that this is entirely voluntary. It's just a matter of hospitality.' The pile of money in front of the finance officer grew steadily. I did not ask why we were handing over this money. The Soviet Army has not only got more divisions and tanks, more soldiers and generals, than any other army in the world. It also has more pigs. Under the Socialist system of equitable distribution, more is collected from the industrious than from the idle and the peasants are given no incentive to work hard: any surplus they produce is just taken away from them. This means that the agricultural sector is unable to supply enough food for either the army or the defence industries. Because of this, each regiment has to keep pigs. No money is allocated for this purpose. The pigs are fed on left-overs from the kitchens. There are thousands of regiments in the Soviet Army: each of them has a hundred pigs. How could any army on earth have so many pigs?
In theory, the pigs are kept so that the diet of the soldiers can be improved. In practice they are all destined to feed the commissions which come to inspect the regiment. Some of their meat is made into excellent chops, gammon steaks and so forth. The remainder is sold, and the proceeds are used to buy caviare, fish, ham and other delicacies, all of which, with the meat, is for consumption by the commissions. And their vodka is bought with money from regimental funds, together with the `voluntary' donations provided by the officers.
Commissions are made up of staff officers from other military districts. For instance, this year, officers from the Baltic Military District may inspect the divisions in the Far Eastern and Turkestan Military Districts, while others from the Sub-Carpathian Military District will inspect those in the Moscow, Volga and Baltic Military Districts.
Staff officers are idealists, theoreticians who are remote from real life. They have forgotten, or perhaps have never known, the cost of human sweat. They expect soldiers to be able to answer questions about the principles of modern warfare, forgetting that some of them have never even heard the Russian language until they entered the army. They expect soldiers to be able to do fifty press-ups, unconcerned that some of them come from families that have suffered for generations from undernourishment. It may have taken me two years to teach someone from this sort of background to do ten press-ups and both he and I may be proud of what we have achieved. But this would not satisfy a staff officer. Staff officers are used to moving armies across maps, like pawns on a chessboard, forgetting that a soldier may disobey an order, he may suddenly go mad, he may rebel against authority, oppose his superiors, or perhaps, driven to desperation, he may kill his unit commander. Do staff officers realise this? Like hell they do. And this is why they have to be entertained over and over again. A glass of vodka and another and another? A little pork? Some caviare? A helping of mushrooms and a little more vodka?
However, as I handed over my money for the vodka, it did not occur to me that a regimental commander needs to create a general atmosphere of friendliness and hospitality for the commission, I forgot about the bitter competition between company and battalion commanders, I completely overlooked the fact that the commission is not allowed to give everyone good marks and that, if one company succeeds by its welcome and hospitality in achieving an `Excellent' rating, another will have to suffer, because the commission is compelled to mark someone `Unsatisfactory'.
I assumed that the regimental commander's warning against fraudulence was sincere. It did not occur to me that, if what was really going on became known, the commander himself would be dismissed immediately. At the same time, he could hardly advocate the use of deceit-he could be thrown into gaol for that. So what else could he have said?
Anyway the inspection began. I presented the company exactly as it was. But, all around us, miracles were being performed. The results achieved by the other companies were quite astonishing. In the 5th Company, for instance, they tested the drivers of armoured personnel carriers. The latter's knowledge of their vehicles was entirely theoretical. Yet all ten drivers were given `excellent' gradings for their performance in driving an APC over rough ground. It was only several months later that I discovered that the company commander had used up all the petrol allocated to him in training just two, not ten, of his drivers. During the test, the drivers took their places one after another in the APC and each one, as he got in, would close the hatch. Then one of the two experts who was already in the vehicle, would take the wheel and race the vehicle round the course.
All the soldiers in the 1st Company were graded `excellent' for their shooting. Their performance seemed too good to be true, but the members of the commission, who were quite sober at the time, had examined the target after each soldier had fired his rounds and had marked every bullet-hole with paint. Quite by chance, I discovered that the best shot in the company had been lying in some nearby bushes with a sniper's rifle, fitted with a silencer. He had helped his comrades out. Everyone was doing much the same sort of thing. Then there was the boozing. First the commission was entertained at regimental level and then came the turns of individual battalions and companies. No preparation at all had been made in my company. As a result, the marks which we were awarded turned out to be catastrophic. Each time I paraded the men after the inspection I would hear someone behind me mutter angrily, through his clenched teeth, `Scum!' He was, of course, addressing me.
Each officer is responsible for the unit under his command from the very moment he takes it over. He is answerable for everything, even if he has only arrived four days-or three hours-earlier.
My company got the worst marks in the whole regiment. It did not matter that the next worst did not get many more-a wide rift appeared between us and all the other companies. The officers laughed at me, openly, and on the doors of the company's barrack-room there appeared the inscription `SUC = Suvorov's Uncontrolled Company'.
I reacted to all this mockery with a cheerful smile. Meanwhile, the companies which had taken between third and eighth places in the inspection were being put through `training' sessions by their officers. Ostensibly in order to correct the mistakes for which they had been marked down, they were taken off into open country and punished in the most brutal fashion, being made to run in gas masks and rubber protective clothing until they collapsed, unconscious. My company waited, mutely, for me to do the same. I did not delay. I drew up a training programme and had it approved by the regimental staff. I asked for the use of five armoured personnel carriers and for the help of a tank platoon, since my company had told me that they had had no instruction in working with tanks in action. Besides the tanks I applied for three blank rounds for the tanks' guns.
I took my company out to a training area and carried out ordinary training exercises with them. I explained anything they did not understand and then put them through their paces, but did not punish them in any way. Next I paraded them and called the oldest group of soldiers forward. `You have done your duty honourably,' I said to them, `and you have followed a hard road. Today you have come to its end. Your last day of training in the Soviet Army is over. I thank you for all you have done. I cannot reward you in any way. Instead, allow me to shake you by the hand.'
I went up to each man and shook him firmly by the hand. Next I went back to the centre of the parade and bowed stiffly to them-something which, according to the regulations, should only be done in front of a group of officers. Then, at my signal, the three tanks suddenly shattered the quiet of the autumn woods by firing the blank rounds, one after the other. This was so unexpected that it made the young soldiers flinch.
`The Army salutes you. Thank you.' I turned to the sergeant-major and told him to march the company back to the barracks.
Some days after this, late one evening, dozens of rockets suddenly soared skywards over the camp, thunderflashes and practice grenades exploded and bonfires were lit. The demobilization order, signed by the Minister of Defence, had arrived. It had been expected for some days but it always arrives without warning. As soon as they hear about it, those who are to be demobilized treat themselves to a firework display. For several days before the order every regiment has a team searching for illegally held rockets, training grenades and anything which could be used for a bonfire. They find and confiscate a lot but they cannot discover everything, for each soldier has been carefully gathering and hiding materials which he can use for the `ceremonial salute'.
At the moment when the sky was suddenly lit up by blazing bonfires we, the officers, were in the middle of a Party meeting.
`Go and stop that!' the regimental commander snapped. The company commanders leapt to their feet and ran off to stop the row which their unruly charges were making.
The only people left in the room were the regimental doctor, the finance officer, some technical and staff officers who had no soldiers under their direct command, and me. I stood quietly watching what was going on outside the window. The regimental commander looked at me in astonishment.
`The 4th Company are not involved,' I said, in answer to his unspoken question.
`Is that so?' he said, with some surprise and sent one of the other officers to check my claim.
It was indeed true that nothing was happening in the 4th Company. My tank salute had been a great deal more impressive than a few rockets and thunderflashes. The appreciation which I had shown had flattered the senior soldiers and had given them prestige and self-respect. While the barrack-rooms of all the other companies were being searched for anything which could be detonated or burned, they came to me to hand over a kit-bag full of odds and ends which they had collected and promised that they would not take part in the celebrations.
When the meeting was resumed, the regimental commander rebuked the other company commanders for their failure to prevent the outburst. Then he asked me to stand up and he commended me for the way I controlled my men and made them behave as I wanted. It was never his way to ask officers how they achieved results. However, his chief of staff could not restrain himself and he asked me to tell them how I had handled the senior soldiers in my company, so that everyone could learn from my example.
`Comrade Lieutenant-Colonel-I gave my orders and they were obeyed.' From the outburst of good-natured laughter with which this was greeted, I knew that I had been accepted as an equal by the regiment's officers.
A Soviet officer is someone who has no rights whatsoever.
In theory, he knows, he must encourage those who are diligent and careful; he must punish the idle and the undisciplined. But the dictatorship of the proletariat has produced a state in which authority is too centralised to permit him to use either a stick or a carrot. He is allowed neither. He is not entitled either to punish or to reward.
On Sundays, the commander of a sub-unit is allowed to send 10% of his NCOs and soldiers into town during daylight hours. This might seem to be a way of encouraging those who deserve it. In fact, however, although he may make a soldier a present of eight hours in this way, he cannot be sure that his battalion or regimental commander will not overrule him by stopping all leave. Besides, platoon and company commanders themselves are not enthusiastic about letting soldiers out of camp. If a soldier is checked by a patrol in the town and they find the slightest thing wrong, the officer who allowed the soldier to leave his barracks is held responsible. A commander, therefore, prefers to send soldiers off for the day in a group, under the eye of the political officer. This is the only way in which Soviet soldiers are allowed to go into a town in Eastern Europe and it is very frequently used in the Soviet Union, too. Since a Soviet soldier does not like being part of a convoy, he just does not bother to leave camp.
A company commander may hold a soldier under arrest for three days, but a platoon commander is not allowed to do so. However, by giving the company commander this right, the Soviet authorities have him by the throat; when the state of discipline in a unit is being assessed, the number of punishments is taken into account. For instance, arrests might average 15 in one company each month, but 45 in another. Clearly, say the powers that be, the first company must be the better one. Three soldiers might be punished in the first company and ten in the second. Again, this is a clear indication that the first company is in better shape. This attitude on the part of the authorities forces unit commanders to hush up or ignore disciplinary offences and even crimes, in order not to drop behind their competitors. As a soldier comes to understand the system, he begins to break the rules more and more frequently and ingeniously, confident that he will not be punished. Many attempts have been made to establish different criteria for assessing the state of discipline, but nothing has come of them. So long as the present system lasts, a commander will avoid handing out punishments, even when they are really called for.
Deprived of the right to punish or reward, an officer devises and imposes his own system. Thus, in one company, the soldiers will know that, if anything goes wrong, their night exercises will always be held when it is raining and will drag on for a long time. In another, they will know that they will have to spend a lot of time digging trenches in rocky ground.
Every commander gradually refines his system and he may eventually manage to avoid arrests and officially recognised punishments completely: he comes to be obeyed, without having to resort to them.
As well as denying the officer any legal method of controlling his charges, the system also forces him to develop his own methods of instructing them. Nor is he given any proper guidance in ways of ensuring the obedience of the men for whom he is responsible. Those who understand how to exercise power in the USSR guard their knowledge jealously: they certainly do not write textbooks on the subject. This is done for them by professors, who have never set eyes on a soldier in their lives. These professors have no power themselves-they may understand how it is acquired and retained, but their knowledge is entirely theoretical.
Nor will a young officer's colleagues pass on their experience on to him, for it has cost them too much to be handed out free. Anything which he learns at his military training college about relationships with his subordinates is the product of a professor's imagination and is of no practical value.
Once he graduates from his training college, the young officer suddenly finds himself in the position of a lion-tamer in a cage of lions, except that he knows no more about lions than that they belong to the cat family. Thereafter, the system of natural selection comes into operation-if you understand how to control your troops you will be accepted by the system; if not you will be relegated to the humblest of roles.
You learn the techniques of control from your own mistakes-and, unless you are a fool, from the mistakes of others. For there will be mistakes in plenty to be seen everywhere around you.
As an example, for several years the commander of the guard company of the 5th Army Staff punished any form of disobedience without mercy. His company was considered one of the best in the whole, huge Far Eastern Military District. His excellent record was noted and he was nominated for a place at an Academy, which would enable him to develop and to get ahead. With only a month left in command of the company, he found it impossible to retain his tight hold-his thoughts were centring more and more on the Academy. He changed his way of exercising command. One evening he invited all his sergeants to his office and gave them a tremendous party. The night turned out to be an unpleasant one for him-the sergeants, having had a lot to drink, nailed him to his office floor. The unfortunate man obviously had a poor knowledge of history; he had not grasped the simple fact that a revolution does not occur during a period of terror, but at the moment when that terror is suddenly relaxed. Historically, the examples of the French Revolution and of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 illustrate this principle; it will continue to operate.
A tough commander may take a disobedient soldier into the company office and beat him unmercifully. The soldier writhes on the floor for a while but then he gets to his feet, seizes a lamp from the table and hurls it in the officer's face. The soldier will be court-martialled but the officer will never again be able to control his company; the soldiers will laugh at him behind his back.
A young officer in front of his soldiers says to them, `If you get good marks at the inspection I promise you I'll...' As an outside observer, you will see scepticism on the faces of the soldiers. You realise that the young Lieutenant is revealing one of his weaknesses, his desire to succeed. You can't always be kind to everyone, Lieutenant, and henceforth anyone whom you treat roughly will use this weakness against you. Everyone has a failing of some sort, but why let others realise it? They may prove to be anything but sympathetic. Just look at this scene and always try to remember the golden rule of controlling others-NEVER PROMISE ANYONE ANYTHING!
If you are able to do something for another person-do it, without having made any promises. From this first rule there follows a second-NEVER THREATEN ANYONE!
You can punish someone and, if you consider it necessary, you should do so. But promises and threats simply weaken your authority as a commander.
After some time you will come to understand the most important rules of all, one which you have never been taught-RESPECT YOUR SOLDIERS.
If a commander is invited by his soldiers to sit at their table, and if he accepts with the gratitude with which he would accept an invitation from his colonel, he is never likely to suffer at their hands. He can be sure that these soldiers will defend him in battle, even if it should cost them their lives. If a commander has learned to respect his soldiers (which means more than just showing them respect), he will suddenly realise, with some surprise, that he no longer needs informers in their ranks. His men will come forward of their own accord, tell him what is going on and ask for his help or protection.
A commander who respects a soldier can ask anything of him and can be confident that the soldier will carry out all his requests without pressure of any sort.
How Much Do You Drink In Your Spare Time?
The regimental parade takes place every day at 0800 hours. All the officers of the regiment must attend. Some of them will already have supervised reveille and morning PT, so they will have had to have arrived at the barracks before 0600. If it takes them an hour to get to the unit, they will have had to get up very early indeed. From 0800 to 1500 hours all officers take part in the training programmes. If you are a platoon commander you work with your platoon. If you are a company commander, you may work with your company sergeants or with one of the platoons-perhaps one of the platoon commanders is on leave, or perhaps you have no platoon commanders in your company. Battalion commanders, their deputies and battalion chiefs of staff, either work with platoons which have no commanders or check the training being carried out by platoon or company commanders. Checking training is a good deal easier than being checked yourself.
Officers have lunch between 1500 and 1600 hours. From 1600 until the late evening they are involved in officers' meetings or Party meetings, or they attend Komsomol meetings held in platoons, companies or battalions. During this period, after their lunch, officers also receive their own training-they pore over secret orders, they are shown classified films, and so forth. Meanwhile, the cleaning of weapons and combat equipment is being carried out in sub-units and, although this is supervised by sergeants, the officers are responsible for the condition of the equipment, and they therefore need to take a few minutes to keep an eye on what is going on. Finally, the officer will have to give seven hours of instruction next day and he must prepare for this. The colonel comes over from divisional headquarters to see what preparations we are making. He states that the preparation for a two-hour training period must include a trip out to the training area, the selection of a good spot for the work which is to be done there and briefing for the sergeants on the way the training is to be carried out. Thereafter, sub-unit commanders are to return to the camp and to work with their sergeants, studying manuals, regulations and recommendations. Next, they are to draw up plans listing the exercises which are to be carried out, to have these approved by their immediate superiors and targets, simulators, combat to prepare everything which will be needed-equipment, etc.
From what the colonel says, it appears that the preparations for a two-hour exercise should take at least five hours. We express agreement, of course, but to ourselves we think, `You can get stuffed, Colonel. I give seven hours' instruction a day. If I prepare for it in the way you are suggesting, I shan't even have time to go to the lavatory. No, my dear Colonel, I'm not going to spend five hours preparing this exercise. I'll spend five minutes.' As quickly as I can, I write out the plan for the exercise and explain to my deputy how he must prepare for it. Everything will sort itself out tomorrow. If time is really pressing, during the Party meeting I get hold of the plans I prepared for last year's exercise and carefully alter the date. That means we can use last year's plan over again.
In the late evening comes the second regimental parade and by 2200 hours the officers who are not involved in night exercises have finished for the day.
What shall I do now? I am unmarried, of course. Anyone idiotic enough to get married while he is a lieutenant soon regrets it bitterly. He and his wife never see each other. The regiment has no married accommodation for junior officers and the relationship is doomed to failure. Any sort of private life is severely discouraged under Socialism, as a potential source of discontent and disunity. The resources available to the Armed Services are used to build tanks, not to put up married quarters for lieutenants. I realised this a long time ago and this was why I have not got married.
So, what shall I do with my spare time? The library is already closed, of course, and so is the cinema. I have no interest in going to the gymnasium-I have been rushing about so much today that I feel utterly exhausted. I'll just go back to the officers' quarters, where all the young bachelors live. There is a television set there but I already know that the whole of today's programme is about Lenin. Yesterday it was about the dangers of abortion and the excellence of the harvest, tomorrow it will be about Brezhnev and the harvest or Ustinov and abortion.
As I enter the living room, I am greeted with delighted cries. Around the table sit fifteen or so officers. They have just begun a game of cards and thick clouds of cigarette smoke hang over them already. I got no sleep last night so I decide to play just one round and then go to bed. A place is made for me at the table and a large glass of vodka put down beside me. I drink it, smiling at my companions, and push a large sum of money over to the bank. Here we go.
Some time after one o'clock, officers returning from night exercises burst noisily into the room, dirty, wet and worn out. They are found places at the table and someone brings them glasses of vodka. They got no sleep last night and decide to go to bed after just one round.
I lose money fast. This is a good sign-unlucky at cards, lucky in love. I assure the sceptics around me that losing is really a sign of good fortune.
Three hours later, the commander of a neighbouring company appears, having just inspected the night guard. He is greeted with delighted cries. Someone produces a full glass of vodka for him. We have already got through a good deal and we have begun to drink only half a glass at a time. The new arrival got no sleep last night, so he decides to leave after one round. The money flows quickly from his pockets-this is not a bad sign. At least anyone who loses money is not hiding it in his pockets. By tradition the loser buys drinks for everyone else. He does so. We decide to play one more round. A good sign... we've drunk all that... someone is coming... they're pouring out more drinks... another round... a good sign...
At six o'clock the clear notes of a bugle float out over the regiment-reveille for the soldiers. When we hear it we all get up, throw our cards on the table and go off to bed.
At 0700 hours a soldier, designated by me as the best in my company, has to wake me up. This is no easy task, but he manages it. I sit on my bed and gaze at the portrait of Lenin which hangs on the wall. What would our great Teacher and Leader say if he could see me in this state, my face puffy with drink and lack of sleep? My boots have been carefully cleaned, my trousers pressed. This is not part of the soldier's duties, but evidently the senior soldiers have given him orders of their own. They must like me, after all!
The doors and windows swim before my eyes. Here comes the door floating past. It is essential not to miss this and to choose the right moment to run through it, as it passes. Someone helpfully pushes me in the right direction. Along the corridor there are ten doors and they are all swimming past me. I must find the right one. Somehow I manage it and I step under the freezing, searingly cold shower. Then comes breakfast and by 0800 hours, glowing and rejuvenated, I am present at the regimental parade, in front of my Guards company. Hell, I've forgotten my map case, which has got the day's programme in it! But some one helpfully hangs it over my shoulder and the working day begins.
The Communist Party hopes that an unconquerable soldier can be produced-one who is more dedicated to Leninism than Lenin himself, who is an athlete of Olympic standards, who knows his tank, his gun or his armoured personnel carrier at least as well as its designer. But, for whatever reason this is not how things work out, so the Party comrades call for a detailed training programme for soldiers and NCOs to be prepared. This is presented to the Central Committee, but it does not produce better soldiers. Clearly, the junior commanders are not fulfilling their norms. Check up on them!
And check on us they do, each day and every day. Everything is checked and tested-by the staffs of the battalions, regiments. Armies and Military Districts, by the General Staff and by a whole mass of committees which it has set up, by the Inspectorate of the Soviet Army, by the Directorate of Combat Training of the Soviet Army, by similar directorates within Military Districts, Armies and divisions and by the Strategic Camouflage Directorate. In addition, tank crews are checked and tested by their own commanders, artillery personnel by theirs and so on. The first question any commanding officer is asked is-have you had experience of working with the infantry? If he has, he is sent off to test them, and then they come back to test his sub-unit.
Hardly a day passes without two or three checks. Every commission which arrives to carry out a check has its own pet subject. Can your men get into an APC in ten seconds and out again in the same time? Of course they can't, I reply.
That's bad, Lieutenant. Haven't you studied the plan? We'll make a note of that. Cursing, I take the one APC I have been allocated off to a clearing in the woods and make my first platoon climb in and out of it again and again as the plan requires. But soon another commission appears and wants to know whether my men can reach the standards laid down for high-speed crosscountry driving across broken terrain. No, I say, they can't. Well, Lieutenant, that's very bad. The assessors record this unsatisfactory finding and order me to begin training my drivers immediately, using the APC. I salute and recall the platoon which has been practising getting in and out of the APC, but I don't send the vehicle for driver-training. I'll keep the damned thing here with me, I decide. A new commission appears and asks their pet questions. How is your platoon getting on with firing automatic weapons from an APC? Not too well, I reply, but we are practising day and night. Here is the APC, there is the platoon and those are the machine-gun crews. The members of the commission smile and move on.
Two failures in one day. But no one is interested in the fact that I haven't got enough APCs. Even if I had, fuel would be short or there wouldn't be enough grenades or grenade launchers.
Two failures in one day-two failures to reach the norms prescribed in the programme for the training of NCOs and other ranks which has been approved by the Central Committee of the Communist Party!
I get back to my quarters late that evening, wet, dirty, tired and angry. I have had to do two night exercises, with two different platoons, straight off-two more teams have checked our performance and we've been awarded two more bad marks.
People make a place for me. Someone gives me a tumbler of vodka and tries to cheer me up-don't take it too seriously! I drink the vodka, but it is some time before it takes effect. So I have another. Now I'll play just one round of cards. But my anger does not evaporate. They pour me another drink. Another round of cards. A sure sign... Someone bursts through the door... they pour him a drink... they pour me a drink... another round... a good sign... At 0600 hours the bugle rouses us from the table. On it there are piles of cigarette ends, underneath it is a heap of bottles.
Gradually one gets used to checks and tests. One finds ways of dealing with the searching questions. I come gradually to the conclusion that it is quite impossible for me to meet the requirements of the training plan-for me or for anyone else. Its demands are too high and the training facilities are quite inadequate. Besides, the plan robs an officer of any initiative. I'm not allowed to give the company physical training if the plan shows that this is the period for technical training. During technical training I cannot show them how to replace the engine of a vehicle if, according to the plan, I should be teaching them its working principles. But I can't explain an engine's working principles because the soldiers don't understand Russian sufficiently well, so I am unable to do either one thing or the other. Meanwhile, the commissions keep arriving. In the evenings my friends tell me not to get upset. I do the same whenever I see signs that one of them is approaching breaking point. I hurry over and pour him a drink. I sit him next to me at table and thrust cards into his hand. Here, have a cigarette. Don't take it so hard...
After a few more months, I realise that it is essential for me to go through the motions of meeting the plan's requirements. However, I do not give all the drivers a chance at the wheel: instead I allow two or three of the best of them to use all the driving time which we are allocated. All the anti-tank rockets which we receive go to the three who perform best with the launchers; the other six will have to get by with theoretical training.
When a commission arrives, I tell them confidently that we are making progress in the right direction. Look at those drivers-they are my record-breakers-the champions of the company! The rest are coming along quite well, but they are still young and inexperienced. Still, we know how to bring them on. The commission is happy with this. And those are the rocket launchers. They could hit an apple with their anti-tank rockets (if you'd care to stand your son over there with an apple on his head). They are crack shots, the stars of our team! We'll soon have the others up to their standard, too. And these are our machine-gunners-three of them are quite superb! And this man is a marksman! And that section can get into an APC in seven seconds flat-which is faster than the official record for the Military District! How can the commission know that jumping into an APC is all that the section ever does, and that they have never been taught to do anything else?
People begin to notice me. They praise me. Then I am promoted to the staff. Now I walk about with a notebook, drawling comments-NOT very good! Have you not studied the Plan which the Party has approved? Occasionally I say-Not TOO bad. I know perfectly well that what I am seeing has been faked, that this is a handpicked team-and I also know the cost at which such results are achieved. But still I say Not TOO bad. Then I move off to the officers mess so that they can ply me with food and drink.
The difference between the work of a staff officer and that of a sub-unit commander is that on the staff you have no responsibility. You also get a chance to drink but don't have to drink too much. All you do is walk about giving some people good marks and others bad ones. And you eat better as a staff officer. Those pigs are meant for visiting commissions, after all-in other words, for us staff officers.
Drop in, And We'll Have a Chat
The triangle of power represented by the Party, Army and KGB brings pressure to bear on every officer and, what is more, it does so with each of its corners simultaneously. I am conscious of three separate weights pressing down on me at the same time; the forces they exert are different and push in different directions. To accept the pressure of all three at once is impossible and if you are not careful you can find yourself caught and crushed between two of them.
To me, as a platoon or company commander, the power of the Army is personified by my battalion commander, by the commander of my regiment or division, by the Commander of the Army or Military District in which I find myself, by the Minister of Defence and by the Supreme Commander. As I advance in my career as an officer, there will always be enough gradations of authority above me for me to feel the weight of some superior's boots on my shoulders.
The Party, too, keeps an eye on each officer, NCO and other rank. Every company commander has a deputy who heads the political section. This deputy has equivalents at battalion and regimental level and each successive higher level. A political officer is not really an officer at all. He wears uniform and has stars on his shoulders, but the extent of his success or failure is not dependent upon the judgements of military commanders. He is a man of the Party. The Party appointed him to his post and can promote and dismiss him: he is accountable only to it. The company `politrabochiy', as he is known, is subordinated to the battalion `politrabochiy' who is himself answerable to his regimental equivalent and so forth, right up to the Chief Political Directorate itself. This Directorate is in some senses a part of the Armed Services; at the same time, however, it is a full Department of the Central Committee of the Party.
The KGB, too, is active in every regiment. That inconspicuous senior lieutenant over there, the one whom our colonel has just acknowledged with a bow, represents a special department, and he controls a secret KGB network, which is at work in our regiment and also in its immediate surroundings.
The three forces push me in different directions, threatening to tear me apart. To manoeuvre between them is very difficult. Each of the three tries incessantly to control my very thoughts and to exclude the influence of its rivals.
The army is glad that I am a bachelor. It would be ideal if all officers were a species of crusading monks, content to live in a citadel which we would never leave, unless the State required us to do so. The divisional commander calls one of my platoon commanders forward and addresses him clearly and distinctly, so that everyone can hear. `I made a vow that I would defend our Motherland. Therefore I will defend you and I expect you to do the same for me. But I made no such vow to your wife, and so I cannot allow you to spend the night at home. You are an officer and you must be operationally available at any moment. Telephone your wife and tell her that, although she has not seen you for two months, she should not expect to do so for as long again. You can add that the situation in the Navy is even worse than in the Army!'
However, my situation does not please the Party at all. The political officer summons me and we have a long talk. `The country's birth-rate is catastrophically low. Even under the Mongols our population remained stable, but that is not the case today, under Communism. Viktor, you are a Communist. You should fulfil your duty to the Party.' I nod in agreement and ask, naively, `But will you find me accommodation? Will I be allowed leave overnight, even once a month?' The political officer bangs his fist on the table. He explains that a true Communist must do his duty to the Party, whether he has accommodation and free time or not. `All right, I'll think about it,' I say. `Yes, think about it-and soon,' he calls after me. This puts me in a tricky situation. If some local prostitute now goes to the political officer and reports that I have spent the night with her, they'll make me marry her straight away. That is the policy of the Party. And I am a member of the Party. If I had not joined the Party, it would not have allowed me to become a company commander. On the other hand, having joined the Party, I must be guided by its wise policies.
The KGB, too, keeps a close eye on me. In every company there are sure to be half a dozen informers. And who is the first person on whom they report? The company commander, of course, although they also report on the man who is trying to penetrate my very soul, the political officer. So the Chekist runs into me, apparently by chance. `Drop in and we'll have a chat.' When I do so, he, too, encourages me to marry. The KGB, too, is keen to get every officer married. They won't give me accommodation or time off either but they will put pressure on me.
The KGB likes to have a spy in each officer's home. If I do something wrong and my wife falls out with me, she will keep the Chekist informed of my interests and my contacts.
The Army would prefer me not to drink at all. The Party does not express itself clearly on the subject. From one point of view alcohol is obviously highly undesirable, but against this, they reason, what am I likely to begin thinking about if my head is not spinning with the accursed stuff? The KGB simply avoids expressing any opinion, but whenever I meet the Chekist he always offers me something to drink. If I don't drink anything at all, I am unlikely to unburden myself to him. And, if I don't drink myself into a stupor each evening, how can he hope to hear about my innermost thoughts?
The Army totally disapproves of alcohol. And yet the regimental shop sells shoe-polish, toothpaste, vodka-a great deal of vodka-and nothing else at all. Evidently, the Army's position is dictated by pressure exerted by the Party and the KGB, neither of which ever clearly states its own points of view.
There has been more fighting-a new war in the Middle East. Once again, our `brothers' have somehow suffered defeat. The Army requires me to explain to my soldiers the tactical errors which have led to this. I do so. I describe to them how a small, determined country wages war. No propaganda-heaven forbid! I simply describe the operations conducted by the two sides calmly and dispassionately, as if the war had been a game of chess.
Soon I find myself summoned to the political officer and then by the special department, too. So, no, this year I shan't be going to the Academy. If either the Party or the KGB are displeased with me, it is not worth the Army's while to stick up for me. My superiors are only human and they don't want to pick a fight with two such powerful forces just about me. There are plenty of other young officers in the Army this year who are eligible for the Academy in every respect.
Who Becomes a Soviet Officer and Why?
The great ideals of Socialism are simple and can be understood by anyone.
Society is built upon reasonable principles. Unemployment is a thing of the past. Medical services are free. Food, in reasonable quantities, is free, too. Every person has a separate room, with light and ventilation. Water, drainage and heating are free. Everyone has the right to some free time. There are no rich or poor. Everyone has comfortable, durable clothing, appropriate to the time of year-and this is, of course, provided free. Everyone is equal before the law.
You may say that this is nothing but a beautiful dream, that no one has ever succeeded in building pure socialism. Nonsense. In every country there are already islands of pure, untainted Socialism, in which each one of these requirements are met.
Is there a prison in your town? If so, go and take a look at it-you will find yourself in a society in which everyone is fed, and everyone has work, in which clothing, accommodation and heating are all provided free.
Soviet Communists are frequently reproached for having attempted to build a socialist society but having produced something which closely resembles a prison. Such a charge is entirely unjustified. In the Soviet Union some of the inmates have larger cells than others, some eat well, others badly. There is complete confusion-a lot remains to be done to tidy up the situation. True socialism, in which everyone is truly equal, does not just resemble a prison-it is a prison. It can not exist unless it is surrounded by high walls, by watchtowers and by guard-dogs, for people always want to escape from any socialist regime, just as they do from a prison. If you try to nationalise medicine and, from the best possible motives, to guarantee work for all the doctors, you will find that they pack their bags and leave the country. Try to bring a little order into the situation and your engineers (the best ones), your designers, your ballerinas (again, the best ones) and many, many others will also flee abroad. If you continue your attempts to establish a model society you will need to build walls around it. You will be forced to do this sooner or later by the flood of refugees.
The Politburo is the governing body of the prison. You should not abuse them for the privileges they possess. Those in charge of a prison must be better off in some ways than the convicts. The KGB are the warders, the Party is the administrative and educational organisation, the Army guards the walls.
When I am asked why I chose to become a Soviet officer, I say that those who serve as guards are better fed and have a pleasanter and more varied life than those in the cells. It was only some time after I joined the Army that I realised that it is far easier to escape from a prison if you are one of the guards. Trying to escape from a cell is a hopeless business.
In most states, life in the armed services is far more strictly regulated than it is for most of the inhabitants.
In the USSR, however, the reverse is true. The whole society finds itself in prison and, even though the Armed Services are kept under the tightest possible control (although even guards must be relieved), the life of an officer is far better than the drudgery which is the lot of the ordinary Soviet citizen.
While I was still one of those guarding our beloved prison, I carried out a sociological investigation among my brother officers, in an attempt to discover what had led them to tie themselves, hand and foot, to the Soviet Army, without expecting any guarantees or any form of contract. Naturally, I approached my colleagues with the greatest care and discretion.
`You remember,' I would ask, `how, when Khrushchev came to power he had 1,200,000 men thrown out of the Army with a stroke of his pen? Your father was one of them; after another three months he would have completed 25 years' service. He was kicked out like a dog, without any sort of pension, in spite of his medals and despite the blood which he had shed for the country during his four years of war service. How did you, Kolya / Valentin / Konstantin Ivanovich, come to choose an officer's career in spite of that?'
I collected several hundred replies to my question. They all amounted to the same thing-everyone wanted to escape the drabness of life in our prison cells.
Higher Military Training Colleges
If you decide to become a Soviet officer, you would be well advised to lose no time and to submit your application as soon as you leave school.
The training of officers is carried out by Higher Military Colleges. The authorities consider, reasonably enough, that if you are to become a good officer you must first be a good soldier. Training at a college lasts for between four and five years and during this time a future officer leads a tough existence, which combines the hardships of a soldier's life in barracks with the penury of a Soviet student's existence. Instruction begins at the very beginning, with a ferocious course of square-bashing. The sergeants who put you through this have completely arbitrary powers over you, whether or not you have already put in two years of military service. Once you have decided to become an officer, therefore, it is better not to wait until you get swept up as a conscript but to try to get into a College immediately you leave school. Unless you succeed, you will simply lose two years, and you will find yourself spending longer in a private's uniform, which, as you may have realised already, is not a pleasant experience.
Until some years ago, officers were trained at military schools. The courses lasted between two and three years, depending on the arm of service concerned. These schools gave a medium-level military education and the students became lieutenants upon the completion of their studies. At the beginning of the 1960s, Khrushchev, who was going through a peace-loving phase, threw 1,200,000 officers and NCOs out of the Army. A Soviet officer has no contract or other guarantee of tenure and so, if someone still had a couple of months to go to complete 25 years of service, he was simply dismissed, with the tiniest of pensions if he was lucky. If he still had some days to serve before completing 20 years of service no matter how unblemished he was kicked out without anything. Most of these unfortunates were officers who had served at the front and had undergone the worst horrors of the Second World War.
The Party was delighted, because they were able to reduce expenditure considerably. However, these short-term gains eventually led to colossal expense. For many years, no one had the slightest desire to become an officer-you give the Army 24 years of your life and then they drive you out like a dog: what happens to you then? Immediately after the fall of Khrushchev, steps were taken to restore the prestige of officers. Their uniforms were improved, their salaries were increased, and they were given a number of additional privileges. But this did not cause young men to rush to join the colours. They wanted permanent guarantees for the future. A current joke ran: `If you can go to a tank training school-and they throw you out, you can become a tractor driver. If you go to a flying school, you can get straight into Aeroflot if you are sacked, but what will happen to political officers, if they make more cuts in the Army?' The answer was: `Political officers can easily get jobs with the post office, sticking stamps on envelopes, because they have such long tongues.'
The solution which was found eventually was a good one for individuals as well as for the State. All military training schools were to be up-graded from medium to higher educational establishments and every student was to receive a university education and to be trained for a civilian profession, as well as for an army career.
First, the course of instruction given at the infantry training schools was reorganised, since it was the infantry which was feeling the shortage of junior commanders most acutely. The length of the course was increased from two years to four. Graduates from the school continued to emerge with a medium-level military education and the rank of lieutenant, but from now on they also received a higher general education, a normal university diploma and civilian professional training. The civilian professions for which those attending Higher Military Training Colleges are prepared normally include automobile engineering and the teaching of mathematics, physics, history, geography and foreign languages. Once the infantry training schools had been reorganised in this way. Colleges for tank, airborne and artillery officers were set up, and then, finally, others to serve the remaining arms of service.
At present there are 154 Higher Military Training Colleges in the Soviet Union. Their courses last for between four and five years. Each College has about 1,000 students and each therefore turns out between 200 and 250 lieutenants a year. Each has a Major-General, a Lieutenant-General or even a Colonel-General as Commandant.
In selecting a College one is, of course, completely ignorant of the choices which are available. Once a year the Army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda publishes a long list of Colleges, together with their addresses and very brief explanatory notes on each.
You study this, scratch your head and plump for one of the Colleges which seems to cater for your interests. However, there are usually several which specialise in each field of study-thus, for instance, there are seven tank colleges. Some people choose the one closest to their homes but others may select one which is far away, in Central Asia or the Far Eastern Military District, because it is easier to get into.
However, there is so little information in the newspaper that you cannot even form the vaguest idea of what lies ahead of you. For instance, in the Tashkent Tank Officers Training College, in addition to the normal faculties, there is another faculty which trains tank officer cadets for service with the Airborne Forces. When you pass your examinations, you receive your officer's shoulder-boards and swear your oath of allegiance and then you suddenly find, to your great surprise, that you are to begin parachute training very shortly and that you are going to spend all your life jumping out of aircraft, until you break your neck.
The Moscow Officers Training College has no faculties at all, the one in Kiev, although it is in exactly the same category, has both general and reconnaissance faculties, and in Baku there is a marine infantry faculty. In Blagoveshchensk there is a specialist faculty which trains officers for work in Fortified Areas, and in Ryazan, besides a normal faculty, the Airborne Officers Training College contains a faculty which trains officers for diversionary units.
The young entrant, of course, knows none of this, so he may therefore end up, quite unintentionally, in a diversionary unit, in the marine infantry-or, indeed, anywhere else at all.
The situation is the same in the Air Force Officers Training Colleges-one trains fighter pilots, another pilots for transport aircraft and a third those who will fly long-range bombers for the Navy. But, of course, no one will explain this to you before you enter that particular college.
This is, perhaps, not so bad, but there are many Colleges about which nothing at all is said. For instance, the Serpukhov Engineer Officers Training College. If you look at the papers set for its entrance examinations, you will realise that they are unusually difficult. Some people are put off by this but it attracts others. If you succeed in gaining a place there, you will discover, during your second year, that you are being trained for service with the Strategic Rocket Forces.
Having chosen a College which appears to cater for your interests, even though you have no real idea what it offers, you should immediately apply to its commandant, saying that you want to become an officer and explaining what you want to do, attach your school-leaving certificate, references from your school and from the Komsomol and send everything off as quickly as possible to the College. In due course you will be summoned to sit the entrance examination.
My own choice was straightforward-the Kharkov Guards Tank Officers Training College. I scribbled my way through four exams, without particular difficulty. They tested me to find out what level I had reached at school, but it was clear that the standard of my knowledge was not particularly important and that they were more interested in my speed of reaction, in my general level of development and in the range of my interests. More important than the written tests were the medical examinations and the tests of physical development. Secretly, before candidates were summoned to the examinations, of course, enquiries about them had been made with the local KGB offices; nothing was done until these were completed. The decisive part of the selection process, however, was a discussion which lasted for several hours, during which one's suitability-or lack of it-for commissioned rank in the Soviet Army was explored. The assembly line moves fast. Three or four applications are usually received for each vacancy. Every evening there is a parade, at which one of the officers reads out the names of those who have been given a place and of those who have been rejected. Every morning, a new batch of hopefuls arrives and every evening, after a week spent at the College, groups of disappointed would-be entrants leave. If they have not done their military service they will be called up before long.
I was successful and joined a battalion-300 strong of young, shaven-headed new cadets. We were divided into three companies, each of three platoons. We were commanded by a lieutenant-colonel, who had a major as his deputy and political officer. The companies were commanded by majors, the platoons by captains and senior lieutenants. At that point we had no sergeants. In my own platoon of 33, only one had done his military service. All the rest had come straight from school. Evidently, not many of those who had already had the opportunity to see how an officer lived wished to take up the army as a career. The first night after the battalion had been formed we found ourselves on a troop train, in goods wagons. No one knew where we were going. We travelled for three whole days and then we arrived at a training division. Most of us had only the vaguest idea what this meant, but one cadet, who had already served in the army for two years, became quite agitated. He had certainly not expected this. During his army service with a tank unit, he had been a loader and he had therefore escaped service with a training division, but he had heard a lot about such units. And now he found himself in one, with a contingent of scum.
The battalion now acquired sergeants-of the type who run training divisions-and life began to gather speed. Reveille, PT, training exercises, disgusting food, cold, night alerts. And together with this, came orders such as `Take a matchstick, measure the corridor with it, and then come and tell me how long the corridor is'. Or, `Take your toothbrush and clean out the latrine. Report to me on the progress you've made by dawn'.
No higher education for you for the present, my friends; first we must make good soldiers out of you!
A training division knocks all the independence and insubordination out of you. You learn a lot while you are there. You are taught to understand others and to represent them. You learn how to recognise scoundrels and how to find friends.
The first lesson which you learn is that soldiers and future officers must not be afraid of tanks. During each of the first few days you spend several hours getting used to them. At first it is easy-you lie at the bottom of a concrete-lined trench while a tank roars round and round above your head, crushing the concrete with its tracks as it does so. Then things get a bit more complicated-you are told that you are to take shelter in an unlined slit trench, which you are to dig. You are told that, provided you make the trench narrow enough, you will be safe. However, you are also told to cover your head with your tunic, so that if the trench should cave in, you will have a few lungfuls of air, which should be enough to enable you to dig yourself out. Next, you are told that you will be given one and a half minutes to dig your trench-and to jump into it, curled up like a hedgehog. You can see the tank, waiting not far away. Both of you are given the signal to start at the same moment. You start digging like a mole, as the tank bears down on you...
And so you carry on, day after day, sweating your guts out, until you have spots in front of your eyes, until you vomit from fatigue, until you collapse with exhaustion.
There is a lot more fun to be had during the training, besides your introduction to tanks-napalm, gas, rubber protective clothing worn in the blazing sun, barbed-wire obstacles
`Accursed barbed wire obstacle
Creation of the 20th century
By the time a man has climbed across you
He is no more than half a man' -and the eternal pressure to save seconds. And the constant uncertainty...
After six months we finish the training course and the time for assessment irrives. Hitherto, we have worn ordinary soldiers' shoulder-boards, but now, after the course, we are given black velvet ones with the gold stitching and the red piping of the cadets of a Tank Officers Training College. But not all of us get these. Forty out of our 300 received the shoulder-boards of junior sergeants and were sent off to become tank commanders and tank gunners. Our College did not ever want to see them darken its doors again.
The battalion was re-formed. Now it had only two companies, each of 130 cadets. We were sent back to the College for the next three and a half years.
The life of a cadet at a College is very little different from the one he led in the training division. The shoulder-boards are different, it is true, and he receives 10 rubles a month instead of 3. (In his third year he receives 15 and in his fourth 20.) And the food is better. But every College has a training centre. A cadet spends one or two weeks at the College studying theory-both military and civil. Then he goes to the training centre for the next one or two weeks. There he spends his time driving, shooting, doing night exercises, platoon engagements, encounter battles with tank companies, more driving, more familiarisation exercises with tanks and with napalm. More pressure to save seconds. More uncertainty.
You are constantly driven out of the College. The time you spend there only counts towards your army service if you are there for medical reasons. But since everyone is robustly healthy, this really does not apply.
One night, my friend Pashka Kovalev, who was already in his fourth year, with three months to go before he graduated, broke out of barracks. He had a girl-friend in Kharkov. He was away for three hours. He managed to get through the barbed-wire and other obstacles on his way back in without being spotted and he slipped quietly into bed. Before leaving, he had put his rolled greatcoat into the bed, and had laid out his dress uniform and boots beside it, in accordance with regulations. As a rule, anyone carrying out a kit inspection during the night would be sure to check that all footwear was properly displayed. But Pashka was clever-he made his unauthorised trip in running shoes.
Reveille, PT, and breakfast went by without incident. Then came the review period. There were about a thousand of us on parade. We stood, freezing, and listened to a string of orders issued by different authorities. These were read out in order of seniority: first came those from the Minister of Defence, then others from the Commander of the Military District, more from his director of training and, finally, those issued by the College Commandant. Suddenly, and without warning, Pashka was called out of the ranks and an order for his expulsion was read. His velvet shoulder-boards were ripped off and replaced with those worn by a private soldier. His absence had been detected by a surprise check during the night. The cadets who had been on guard duty that night were immediately arrested and thrown in the cells for ten days. Others were being woken up to take their place, as the commission which had made the check departed. They were told nothing of what had occurred. Pashka returned towards morning, crept in through a window in the latrines and got back into his bed. He did not realise that the guard had been changed and assumed he had got away with it. But, while he was breaking in, the order for his expulsion was being already drafted by the staff. It took no account of the four years he had spent at the College-four years which had made him feel that he was already almost an officer. He was sent to the training division at which we began our service.
Long afterwards, I heard that he had not been able to endure life in the training division, that he had finally refused to obey orders and had hit a sergeant. For this he was sent to a penal battalion for two years-which did not, of course, count as part of his military service. After this he would have been returned to the unit which had sent him to the penal battalion-the training division. Whether he ever did go back I do not know-I never heard anything more about him.
Duties and Military Ranks
I knocked on the door, waited for permission to enter and went in. The regimental commander, Colonel Dontsov, was standing. Despite this, a major, whom I did not recognise, was sitting by his side. I saluted smartly, clicking my heels as I did so.
`Comrade Colonel, may I have permission to make my report?'
`Ask the Major for permission.'
I turned quickly to the Major.
`Excuse me, Comrade Major, I am Senior Lieutenant Suvorov. May I report to Colonel Dontsov?'
The major nodded, expressionlessly. I report to the colonel on a duty trip I had just finished. He asked a few questions and then nodded, showing that he had no more to say. I again turned to the major.
`Comrade Major, may I have permission to leave?'
He said that I might go. I turned and went out.
The situation had been clear to me from the moment I entered. While I had been away from the unit, an officer of greater importance than our regimental commander had arrived, as his superior (and therefore also mine). If this major was more important than the commander of a regiment, he must be the equivalent of at least a deputy divisional commander.
In the corridor I met one of the orderly room clerks and I asked him, `Who's this new major, who is lording it over the boss?'
`He's an important man,' said the clerk, with some awe. `He is the new divisional chief of staff, Major Oganskiy.'
I whistled: from now on I knew whom to salute, whom to click my heels to.
The system of awarding military ranks in the Soviet Army is a fairly simple one, but it is different from those used elsewhere and therefore needs to be explained.
The system came into use during the war-effectively at the time of the battle for Stalingrad. In other words, it dates from the time when the Soviet Union first began to aspire to become a super-power. It is designed to take maximum advantage of the rivalry between the officers on each rung of the promotion ladder and to ensure that advancement comes as quickly as possible to the staunchest supporters of the regime-the hardest, most callous, most masterful and most competent.
To achieve this, the Soviet system applies the following simple rules:
1. Seniority depends, not on rank but on appointment. Only when two officers have no professional connection with one another, is seniority determined by rank.
2. An officer's eligibility for a higher appointment depends, not on his rank or length of service, but on his ability to command.
3. The time spent in a particular appointment is not limited in any way. Thus, an officer may command a platoon for the whole of his service or he may be given greater responsibility within a few months.
4. The appointment held by an officer makes him eligible for a particular rank. However, he is not given this rank unless he occupies an adequately responsible place on the ladder of service and has served for a given number of years.
The system for the advancement and promotion of officers in peacetime works in exactly the same way as it did during the war. We will therefore illustrate it with wartime examples.
Imagine that the deputy commander of a battalion is killed in action. A replacement is needed without delay. The battalion commander has only a limited choice. There are three companies in his battalion and the commander of one of these companies must take his deputy's place. In making his choice, the battalion commander will ignore an individual's expectations, his length of service and the number of stars on his shoulderboards. What he needs, quickly, is the man who, in his opinion, will measure up best to new responsibilities. Of the three candidates one is, let us say, a captain, the second a senior lieutenant and the third a lieutenant who arrived recently from his military training school and who has been in command of his company for two weeks. The battalion commander knows that the captain is a heavy drinker, the senior lieutenant is a coward but that the lieutenant is neither of these. He therefore appoints the lieutenant as his deputy. The lieutenant will be promoted to a higher rank later, but the two other officers, with whom he was on equal terms until this moment, are now his subordinates. Shortly afterwards, the battalion commander is killed, at which point our lieutenant automatically takes his place, leaving the post of deputy battalion commander vacant once again. The new battalion commander must now decide-very quickly-who should fill the vacancy. He could select the alcoholic captain, although almost anyone else would be better, or he might choose a lieutenant who is even younger than him, who finished his training even more recently than he did, but who received better marks at the training school than he did himself.
Here are some examples from real-life. The first is from 1944, when the 29th Guards Rifle Division found itself in urgent need of a commanding officer for one of its regiments. Captain I. M. Tretyak was chosen. He was only twenty-one, but he had three and a half years of continuous service in action behind him. During these years he had worked his way steadily up the promotion ladder, having held every rank, one after the other. Understandably, he tended to be chosen whenever an officer was needed for a more responsible post. He was promoted later on but for the time being he commanded the regiment while still a captain. Under his command were eight lieutenant-colonels, and dozens of majors and captains. Subsequently he continued up the ladder with the same speed. Today he is a Marshal.
In 1942 the 51st Army was left without a commanding officer. The senior command decided that the best candidate for this post was Colonel A. M. Kuznetsov. The brigades and divisions in the army were commanded by generals, a general commanded each of the corps and, in four cases, had another general as deputy, the Army's administrative and staff departments bulged with still more generals, but Colonel Kuznetsov suddenly ascended, through their midst, to lead them all. He became the commander-he was the one you had to click your heels to.
The 58th Army, too, was commanded by a Colonel-N. A. Moskvin-in spite of the fact that there were generals galore on the Army's strength. But it was Colonel Moskvin to whom they and all their men became answerable, for he was the man whom the higher command selected as the best officer available. The situation in peacetime remains exactly as it was during the war. The time an officer spends doing a particular job is not limited by any rules or regulations. Young officers arrive from their colleges and are given platoons. The regimental commander has the right to take one of them and put him in command of a company-and he can do this after the officer has been in charge of a platoon for only one day. In his own interests, a regimental commander will always select the harshest, the most demanding, and the most dependable of the officers at his disposal for the post.
A divisional commander appoints his deputy battalion commanders and all officers holding equivalent appointments under him. However, he may only make his choice from officers who have reached the immediately preceding grade-that is from among his company commanders but not from the latter's platoon commanders. In order to rise to the post of deputy battalion commander, a young officer must first please his regimental commander sufficiently to be put in charge of a company and then he must find favour with the divisional commander-without, however, falling out with his regimental commander, who has enough power to ruin the career of any officer who is under his command.
An Army Commander can choose his battalion commanders, but these must come from those who have done the job of deputy battalion commander. The Commander of a Military District can select and appoint deputies for his regimental commanders from any of his battalion commanders. Regimental commanders are appointed by the Minister of Defence.
The same procedure is followed at other levels. The chief of staff of a Military District appoints battalion chiefs of staff, the Chief of the General Staff chooses the chiefs of staff for regiments.
All officers higher than regimental commander are appointed by the Administrative Department of the Central Committee. Appointments senior to that of divisional commander must also be ratified by the Politburo. However, the Politburo follows the principle used throughout-seniority is determined not by rank but by the appointment held-for it was the Politburo itself which devised this principle.
Each appointment in the Soviet Army is open only to officers of not more than a certain rank. Thus, a platoon commander may not be more than a senior lieutenant. Similarly, as regards command appointments:
A company commander may not be more than a captain. A deputy battalion commander may not be more than a major.
A battalion commander/deputy regimental commander may not be more than a lieutenant-colonel.
A regimental commander/deputy divisional commander may not be more than a colonel.
A divisional commander/deputy Army commander may not be more than a major-general.
An Army Commander may not be more than a lieutenant-general.
A Front or Military District Commander may not be more than a general of the Army.
Minister of Defence, Chief of the General Staff, Chief of a Strategic Direction, Chief of an Armed Service may not be more than a Marshal of the Soviet Union.
The Supreme Commander during wartime ranks as Generalissimo of the Soviet Union.
The same applies to non-command appointments. Thus:
The chief of staff of a battalion must not be more than a major.
The chief of staff of a regiment must not be more than a lieutenant-colonel.
The chief of staff of a division must not be more than a colonel.
The chief of staff of a Army must not be more than a major-general. The chief of staff of a Front must not be more than a lieutenant-general. The chief of staff of a Strategic Direction must not be more than a colonel-general. The chief of the General Staff is a Marshal of the Soviet Union.
In the financial branch, to take a further example, the financial section of a regiment will be headed by a captain, of a division by a major, of an Army by a lieutenant-colonel, of a Front or Military District by a major-general. The senior officer of the entire branch is a colonel-general.
An officer is given an appointment without reference to his rank: he will receive any promotion due to him subsequently. The following are the minimum times for which an officer must remain at each rank:
Junior lieutenant1 ... 2 years
Lieutenant ... 3 years
Senior lieutenant ... 3 years
Captain ... 4 years
Major ... 4 years
Lieutentant-colonel ... 5 years
Above this rank there are no fixed terms.
Normally, the graduate of a Higher Military Training College (at which he has spent 4 years) becomes a lieutenant at 21. In theory, he will reach the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 19 years. However, in order to receive each promotion, he must not only serve for the requisite number of years but he must also be acceptable for an appointment which carries this rank.
If you are a platoon commander, provided that your platoon's performance is satisfactory, you will automatically become a senior lieutenant after three years. After three more years you become eligible for the next rank, that of captain. However, if you are still with your platoon, not having succeeded in being chosen to command a company, you will not be promoted. If you are already in charge of a company, or have progressed still further up the ladder, you will receive your captain's star immediately. Four years later, the time comes when you can be promoted to major; provided that you are by now deputy commander of a battalion your progress will not be held up. If you are still a company commander, you will have to wait for promotion. If you are never able to show that you are better than the other company commanders and that you should be promoted before them, you will never become a major.
In principle, therefore, an officer's appointment opens the way for his promotion, but promotion only follows after the completion of a certain number of years' service spent in the preceding rank. If you have ever been held back, and have lost some years in one particular rank, you will never catch up. When you are eventually promoted, you will still have to serve for the prescribed number of years in your new rank before you become eligible for the next one.
1 This rank is given only to those who have undergone a shorter course of training.
Here is another example from life. In August 1941, General Major A. M. Vasilyevskiy was appointed to head the Operational Directorate of the General Staff. At the same time he also became deputy to the Chief of the General Staff. The Operational (or First) Directorate of the General Staff is responsible for producing war plans.
This post is one of enormous importance by any standards, not only those of the Red Army. It is enough to say that it is in this Directorate that the Soviet Union's 5-year economic plans originate; thereafter, the Council of Ministers and the State Planning Commission decide how the requirements of the General Staffs are to be met, before proceeding, with the highly secret military plan as a basis, to draw up the All-Union Plan, in both its secret and open variants.
The German intelligence services concluded that the appointment of a mere colonel to such an august position was an indication that the role of the General Staff was being reduced in importance. The reason that they made this mistake was that the Germans did not understand the Red Army's simple principle-seniority is not determined by rank, but by appointment. Rank follows appointment, slowly but surely, just as infantry follows tanks which have suddenly and forcefully broken through into the rear of the enemy.
In fact there was nothing particularly astonishing about the appointment of the General Major to such a high post: the explanation was, quite simply, that the Supreme Commander decided that this particular officer would meet the demands of the job better than anyone else. This Vasilyevskiy did-within eights months he had become Chief of the General Staff.
Since he had risen to so high an appointment, the way to considerable further promotion was open to him. Stars rained down on his shoulderboards. He passed quickly through the hierarchy of generals, wearing the four stars of a General of the Army for a mere twenty-nine days before being promoted to the rank of Marshal. After the end of the war with Germany he carried out a brilliant operation in Manchuria, becoming Commander-in-Chief of the Far Eastern Strategic Direction.
But we must not be misled. The Red Army is an enormous organisation and not everyone can succeed as Vasilyevskiy did. I have met hundreds of senior lieutenants who will stay at this rank for the rest of their lives.
In order to achieve high rank you need an appropriately senior appointment: in order to be considered for such an appointment you must have completed a course of studies at a Military Academy.
It will be recalled that Higher Military Training Colleges provide a higher general education but only a medium-level military one. Higher military education is the province of the Military Academies, of which there are 13 at present. Among these are the Frunze All-Arms, Armoured, Artillery, Engineering, Military-Political, Naval, two Air Force, two Rocket, Air Defence, and Chemical Warfare Academies. Officers spend three years at an Academy, which may be headed by a Colonel-General, a General of the Army, a Marshal of one of the arms of service or even the Chief Marshal of a particular service.
The road to an Academy is a hard one. First, one must have commanded at least a company. Secondly, the sub-units under your command must achieve excellent ratings for two years (which means that you must lay in enough vodka and proceed to pour it into the commissions which come to check you until they are afloat with it-assuming, of course, that they consent to drink with you at all). Thirdly, approval for your application for entry is required from all your superior officers up to and including your divisional commander. Any of these officers has the right to stop your application from going on to his immediate superior. If one of them does so you will have to wait until the following year and your battalion or company will have to maintain its excellent record. Finally, you will have to pass examinations, a medical commission, and interviews and, thereafter, succeed against the competition within the Academy itself.
Unless an officer manages to secure a place at an Academy, he will never command more than a battalion. If he is successful, he has three years of intensive work on a very wide-ranging and detailed curriculum. After graduation, wide horizons stretch before him. Quite young majors are frequently made regimental commanders, or, failing that, deputy regimental commanders, as soon as they have completed the course. Whatever happens the path upwards is now open.
Towering above all the Academies is the General Staff Academy. Entry to this is tree of all the competition, examinations, applications and other problems involved in admission to the others. Everything is done for you by the Administrative Department of the Central Committee of the CPSU. The Central Committee selects those who will head the Red Army in the immediate future from among all the colonels who show promise and who are truly dedicated to the regime.
Of course, all the entrants to the General Staff Academy have already studied at a Higher Military Training College and then at the Frunze Armoured or Air Academies, or at one of the others.
The lowest rank held by entrants is colonel and there are often several colonel-generals on the current list of those attending. Commanders of Armies, Military Districts, Groups of Tank Armies, Flotillas and Fleets are often invited to visit the Academy by the Central Committee.
Having completed his studies at this Academy, a general will rise higher and higher, leaving his former rivals far behind.
`How fine to be a General' runs a line from a popular song. And, indeed, seen from below, the life led by a general does seem to be a quite sublime existence.
A Soviet general enjoys a great many privileges. If he wishes, he can acquire his own harem. Soviet ideology will not stand in his way. Every divisional commander, every Army, Front and Military District commander has signal units, communications centres and telephone switchboards under his command, staffed by attractive girls who have been security-vetted. The general is their absolute master. He guards them jealously against the attentions of others.
While I was with the 24th Division, a senior lieutenant who was a friend of mine, became friendly with an attractive girl from the divisional communications battalion. He was hauled before an Officer's Court of Honour which sentenced him to revert to the rank of lieutenant. The girl was dismissed from the army, immediately. He had to face a charge of having attempted to penetrate the divisional communications centre, in which there were secret command channels and she was accused of complicity. Both were enormously relieved when these accusations were dropped and delighted to have escaped as lightly as they did. This episode served as a lesson to the whole division. During the same period, the divisional commander, in order to ensure that he kept in touch with the girls under his command, organised a number of them into a shooting team. On their days off, he would pack his `markswomen' into his car, take them off to the divisional firing range and train them, personally, there. Imagine the scene-a vast, empty stretch of country in the Carpathian mountains, a huge area, carefully guarded and completely shut off from the world. Thickly wooded mountains, rocky slopes intersected by streams rushing downhill over rapids-without a living soul for miles around. On Sundays, our general was joined at the range by the local Party bosses, who used to bring their own girls from Lvov. He trained them, too. He was quite a man...
On a rather higher level, the entertainment of generals in the Soviet Army is catered for by professionals. Every Military District, Group of Forces and Fleet has its own troupe of singers and dancers. These are made up of professional performers, who are under contract to the Armed Services. They are subject to military discipline, for they are employees of the Armed Services just like the Army's doctors, nurses, typists and so forth. The Army is a more generous employer than any others. The girls in these ensembles-singers and dancers-are kept continuously and intensively at work entertaining the command staff. Generals' dachas have long since been transformed into temples dedicated to the worship not of Marx and Lenin but of Bacchus and Venus.
Athletically inclined young girls, especially gymnasts, are in special demand among our military leaders. The Army's Central Sports Club is one of the largest and richest in the USSR. Girls who have no connection whatsoever with the Armed Services can join this organisation and have all their living expenses paid. Sport in the USSR is an entirely professional affair. Sportsmen or sportswomen are paid, fed, clothed, and given decorations, accommodation and cars for their services-and the better they are the more they are paid. But their free and easy life must still be paid for by the athletes themselves. The girls pay in kind, becoming involved in prostitution while they are still very young. Those who are most amenable, as well as those who are most talented, are led by their coaches to the highest realms of professional sport.
What more can the generals want from life? Their dachas are huge and luxurious. Marshal Chuykov's dacha, for example, was built for him by two brigades of engineers, each of four battalions. More than 2,500 men were involved and they had the use of the best military engineering equipment.
Our military leaders fly off on hunting trips in helicopters, which they then use to drive game through nature reserves. They are given everything they need-quarters, cars, and all the cognac and caviare they want. Surely theirs must be a perfect existence? And yet the number of senior military leaders who commit suicide is exceptionally high. Of course, they do not shoot themselves when they become too fat or sated to go on but when rivals seize them by the throat and wrest their power from them.
During the Great Purge, 33,000 officers with the rank of brigade commander or above were executed in a single year. `But that was in Stalin's day' I shall be told-as if the very name of Stalin explains everything. But even since Stalin's day, generals have not been able to sleep peacefully at night. They are constantly plagued by uncertainty. Although Stalin is dead and gone, generals are still being offered up as sacrifices. The first victim was Lieutenant-General Vasiliy Stalin. He was thrown into a mental asylum immediately after Stalin's death and there he died, quietly and quickly. While his father was still alive, no one had diagnosed any abnormality. He was as strong as a bull; he was the only general of his rank in the whole Soviet Army who flew jet-planes.
After Stalin's death, Marshal of the Soviet Union Konev shot Marshal of the Soviet Union Beriya during a session of the Politburo itself. Next, Marshal of the Soviet Union Bulganin lost his rank and was driven in disgrace from his position at the head of the Soviet government. There was also the case of Marshal of the Soviet Union Kulik, demoted to major-general by Stalin, who had then sent him to prison and announced that he was dead. After Stalin, Kulik was released from prison and restored to his rank of lieutenant-general. He was promised promotion to Marshal if he could organise the design and production of the first Soviet intercontinental ballistic missile. He succeeded and in 1957 he again became a Marshal of the Soviet Union, although no explanation of his return from the dead was ever made public. When he received a telegram from the government announcing this and congratulating him, Kulik collapsed and died, from a heart attack, at the rocket range at Kapustin Yar. According to one story, when he received the telegram he shot himself.
Such has been the fate of various Marshals. The generals fare worse. They are plagued, endlessly, by uncertainty. In one day, in February 1960, Khrushchev sacked 500 generals from the Soviet Army.
No Soviet general, and for that matter no Soviet officer or soldier-no single member of this enormous organisation-has any guarantee that he will be allowed to retain his privileges, his rank or even his life. They may drive him out, like an old dog, at any moment: they may stand him against a wall and shoot him.