Troops of the Soviet Airborne Forces traditionally wore a sky blueberet and blue-striped telnyashka and they were named desant (Russian: Десант) from the French Descente.
The Soviet Airborne Forces were noted for their relatively large number of vehicles, specifically designed for airborne transport, as such, they traditionally had a larger complement of heavy weaponry than most contemporary airborne forces.
Interwar and World War II
The first airborne forces parachute jump is dated to 2 August 1930, taking place in the Moscow Military District. Airborne landing detachments were established after the initial 1930 experimental jump, but creation of larger units had to wait until 1932–33. On 11 December 1932, a Revolutionary Military Council order established an airborne brigade from the existing detachment in the Leningrad Military District. To implement the order, a directive of the Commissariat of Military and Naval Affairs transformed the Leningrad Military District's 3rd Motorised Airborne Landing Detachment into the 3rd Airborne Brigade (Special Purpose) [ru] commanded by M.V. Boytsov. In addition, the 13th and 47th Airborne Brigades plus three airborne regiments (the 1st, 2nd, and 5th, all in the Far East) were created in 1936. In March and April 1941, five Airborne Corps (divisions) were established on the basis of the existing 201st, 204th, 211th, 212th, and 214th Airborne Brigades. The number of Airborne Corps rose from five to ten in late 1941, but then all the airborne corps were converted into "Guards" Rifle Divisions in the northern hemisphere summer of 1942.
The Soviet airborne forces were mostly used as 'foot' infantry during the war. Only a few small airborne drops were carried out in the first desperate days of Operation Barbarossa, in the vicinity of Kiev, Odessa, and the Kerch peninsula. The two significant airborne operations of the war were the Vyazma operation of February–March 1942, involving 4th Airborne Corps, and the Dnepr/Kiev operation of September 1943, involving a temporary corps formation consisting of 1st, 3rd, and 5th Airborne Brigades. Glantz wrote:
"After the extensive airborne activity during the winter campaign of 1941–42, [the] airborne forces underwent another major reorganization the following summer. Responding to events in southern Russia, where German troops had opened a major offensive that would culminate in the Stalingrad battles, the ten airborne corps, as part of the Stavka strategic reserves, deployed southward. Furthermore, the Stavka converted all ten airborne corps into guards rifle divisions to bolster Soviet forces in the south. Nine of these divisions participated in the battles around Stalingrad, and one took part in the defense of the northern Caucasus region."
The Stavka still foresaw the necessity of conducting actual airborne operations later during the war. To have such a force, the Stavka created eight new airborne corps (1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th) in the fall of 1942. Beginning in December 1942, these corps became ten guards airborne divisions (numbered 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th (formed from 9th Airborne Corps (2nd formation)), 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, two formed from the 1st Airborne Corps and the three existing separate maneuver airborne brigades). The new guards airborne divisions trained in airborne techniques, and all personnel jumped three to ten times during training, though many were from jump towers.
After the defeat of German forces in the Battle of Kursk, the bulk of the airborne divisions joined in the pursuit of German forces to the Dnieper River which formed part of the German Panther–Wotan line which they defended. Even as ten guards airborne divisions fought at the front, new airborne brigades formed in the rear areas. In April and May 1943, twenty brigades formed and trained for future airborne operations. Most of these brigades had become six new guards airborne divisions (11th through 16th) by September 1943.
The 1st, 3rd and 5th Guards Airborne Brigades were intended to secure the far side of the Dnieper between Kaniv and Rzhishchev. The drop was poorly executed and instead of the intended 10 by 14 km (6.2 by 8.7 mi) area, troops were dispersed over 30 by 90 km (19 by 56 mi) and unable to concentrate their forces. The majority were killed or captured; some survivors joined partisan groups.
In August , the Stavka formed the 37th, 38th, and 39th Guards Airborne Corps. By October, the newly formed corps had combined into a separate airborne army under Maj. Gen. I. I. Zatevakhin. However, because of the growing need for well-trained ground units, the new army did not endure long as an airborne unit. In December, the Stavka reorganized the separate airborne army into the 9th Guards Army of Col. Gen. V. V. Glagolev, and all divisions were renumbered as guards rifle divisions. As testimony to the elite nature of airborne-trained units, the Stavka held the 9th Guards Army out of defensive actions, using it only for exploitation during offensives.
From 1944 the airborne divisions were reconstituted as Guards Rifle Divisions.
The HQ 9th Guards Army was redesignated Headquarters Airborne Forces in June 1946 after the war ended. The units of the army were removed from the order of battle of the Air Forces of the USSR and assigned directly to the Ministry of the Armed Forces of the USSR.
In 1946 the force consisted of five corps (the 8th and 15th had been added) and ten divisions:
In the summer of 1948, five more Guards Airborne Divisions were created. The 7th (Lithuania, 8th Airborne Corps), the 11th (activated 1 October 1948 in Ryazan, Moscow Oblast, from the 347th Guards Air Landing Regiment, 38th Airborne Corps), the 13th Guards (at Galenki, Primorskiy Kray, with the 37th Airborne Corps), the 21st Guards (Estonia, Valga, with the 15th Airborne Corps), and the 31st Guards (Carpathians, 39th Airborne Corps). At the end of 1955 and the beginning of 1956 the 11th Guards, 21st, 100th and 114th Guards Airborne Divisions were disbanded as well as all the airborne corps headquarters. The number of divisions, thus, decreased to 11. In April 1955 the transport aircraft were separated from the VDV and the Air Force Military Transport Aviation was created. In 1959 the 31st and 107th Guards Airborne Divisions were disbanded, but in October 1960 the 44th Training Airborne Division was formed. In 1964 the Soviet Airborne Forces were directly subordinated to the Ministry of Defence.
The creation of the post-war Soviet Airborne Forces owe much to the efforts of one man, Army GeneralVasily Margelov, so much so that the abbreviation of VDV in the Airborne Forces is sometimes waggishly interpreted as Войска дяди Васи or "Uncle Vasya's Forces".
Airborne units of two divisions (7th and 31st Guards) were used during Soviet operations in Hungary during 1956, and the 7th Guards division was used again during the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.
The first experimental air assault brigade – the 1st Airborne Brigade – was apparently activated in 1967/1968 from parts of the 51st Guards Parachute Landing Regiment (PDP) (Tula), after the Soviets had been impressed by the American experiences in Vietnam War. In 1973 the 13th and 99th Airborne Divisions were reorganised as air assault brigades, and thus the number of divisions dropped to eight. There were also independent regiments and battalions. However, even by the 1980s only two divisions were capable of being deployed for combat operations in the first wave against NATO using Air Force Military Transport Aviation and Aeroflot aircraft.
Airborne Forces Commander-in-Chief Vasily Margelov had the idea to introduce the Telnyashka blue-and-white striped shirt as a sign of elite status of the airborne troops. In 1970, the telnyashka became an official part of the uniform.
However, there was also a mistaken Western belief, either intentional Soviet deception or stemming from confusion in the West, that an Airborne Division, reported as the 6th, was being maintained at Belogorsk in the Far East in the 1980s. This maskirovka division was then 'disbanded' later in the 1980s, causing comment within Western professional journals that another division was likely to be reformed so that the Far East had an airborne presence. The division was not listed in V.I. Feskov et al.'s The Soviet Army during the period of the Cold War, (2004) and the division at Belogorsk, the 98th Guards Airborne Svirskaya Red Banner Order of Kutuzov Division moved to Bolgrad in Ukraine in late 1969.
The Airborne Troops (Воздушно-десантные войска (ВДВ), literal translation: Air-Landing Troops) of the Soviet Union and their present-day Russian Federation successor are a separate combat service directly subordinated to the General Staff. Their combat doctrine establishes their role as a highly mobile operational reserve of the armed forces, the last remaining Reserve of the Supreme High Command (Резерв главного командования (РГК)).
In 1989 a Soviet Air-Landing Division (Воздушно-десантная дивизия (вдд)) was organized into a division headquarters, three Parachute Landing Regiments (sing. Парашютно-десантный полк (пдп)) and various combat and service support units. V. I. Shaykin's historic study of the Airborne Forces lists the following force structure in 1989 (Military Detachment number (в/ч) given in brackets):
Directorate of the Commander of the Airborne Troops (Управление командующего ВДВ)(25953), Moscow, RSFSR
units and establishments directly subordinated to the Directorate:
879th Signals Nod
196th Signals Regiment of the Airborne Troops (54164), Medvezhie Ozera, Moscow Oblast, RSFSR
1883rd Station of the Field Courier Service (54235)
As a high readiness and long range main operational reserve of the General Staff the Airborne Troops could rely on the support of the whole Military Transport Aviation and Aeroflot aircraft mobilized for military service. The Airborne Troops also had their own organic aviation assets, but these had very limited airlift capabilities (Antonov An-2s and Mil Mi-8s) and were used for parachute training and liaison flights between the various units.
Landing Assault units of the Soviet Ground Forces
Around the time of the strategic Exercise Dnepr-67 (ru:Днепр (учения)) came the organization of the first Soviet air assault formation. Shortly before it the 51st Guards Parachute-Landing Regiment (51-й гв. пдп) was reflagged becoming the 1st Separate Air Assault Brigade (1-я отдельная Воздушно-штурмовая бригада (1-я овшбр)) and this experimental formation was put under the command of Major General Kobzar', Chief of the Combat Training Department of the Airborne Forces HQ. The task of the brigade in the massive exercise was to land with helicopters on the riverside of the River Dnieper and secure a beachhead for the forcing of the river by the main forces. This was executed successfully and the lessons learned were used for the formation of regular air assault brigades. A General Staff Directive from May 22, 1968, ordered the formation of the first brigades. They were under the Soviet Ground Forces and by August 1970 the first two active brigades were:
13th Air Assault Brigade (13-я отдельная Воздушно-штурмовая бригада (13-я овшбр)) in the villages of Nikolayevka and Zavitinsk, Amur Oblast, under the Far Eastern Military District and the
11th Air Assault Brigade (11-я отдельная Воздушно-штурмовая бригада (11-я овшбр)) in the village of Mogocha, Chita Oblast, under the Transbaikal Military District.
These brigades had organic aviation units and had the following structure:
Brigade HQ (управление бригады)
3x Separate Air Assault Battalions (три отдельные воздушно-штурмовые батальоны)
Artillery Battalion (артиллерийский дивизион)
Air Defence Artillery Battalion (зенитно-артиллерийский дивизион)
Combat Helicopter Regiment with its own Aviation Base (боевой вертолетный полк с авиационной базой)
Transport Helicopter Regiment with its own Aviation Base (транспортный вертолетный полк с авиационной базой)
Brigade logistics (тыл бригады)
Each aviation base consisted of an airfield support battalion and a signals and radio-technical support battalion. The brigade was tasked with executing tactical heliborne landings up to 100 km behind enemy lines. In the beginning of the 1970s the designation was changed from Separate Air Assault Brigade (отдельная воздушно-штурмовая бригада (овшбр)) to Separate Landing Assault Brigade (отдельная десантно-штурмовая бригада (одшбр)). In 1973 a third brigade was formed:
The experimental 1st Separate Air Assault Brigade was fully staffed by Airborne Troops personnel due to its background, but the regular air assault brigades formed afterwards lacked any airborne parachute training and the majority of their officers came from the higher schools of the Ground Forces. The brigades carried the uniform of the motor rifle branch. In 1973 the landing assault brigades received a new table of organization:
Brigade HQ (управление бригады) of 326 men;
3x Separate Landing Assault Battalions (три отдельные десантно-штурмовые батальоны) of 349 men each;
Separate Artillery Battalion (отдельный артиллерийский дивизион) of 171 men;
Aviation Group (авиационная группа) of 805 men;
Separate Signals and Radio-technical Support Battalion (отдельный дивизион связи и радио-технического обеспечения) of 190 men;
Separate Airfield Technical Support Battalion (отдельный батальон аэродромно-технического обеспечения) of 410 men.
The new air assault brigades were deemed successful and by the end of the 1970s several more brigades were formed under the military districts. In addition several separate landing assault battalions were formed as assets of combined arms and tank armies. In 1983 these forces started receiving parachute training and this put them under the training oversight of the Airborne Troops. The rapid expansion of the landing assault troops led to the disbanding of one airborne division in 1979. This was the 105th GuardsVenskaya, awarded the Order of the Red Banner Airborne Landing Division (105-я гвардейская воздушно-десантная Венская Краснознаменная дивизия) with HQ in Fergana in the Fergana Valley, Uzbekistan SSR and command of the 111th, 345th, 351st and the 383rd Parachute Landing Regiments and additional support units. The division was specialized in warfare in mountain and arid regions and the decision to disband it proved to be a seriously misguided one in the coming Soviet–Afghan War. The division gave birth to the following formations:
The 345th Parachute Landing Regiment (345-й пдп) retained its airborne qualification and remained deployed at the southern border of the USSR, reformed into the 345th Separate Parachute Landing Regiment.
The 111th Parachute Landing Regiment (111-й пдп) based in Osh, Kirgiz SSR was used as the basis for the formation of the 14th Guards Separate Landing Assault Brigade (14-я гв одшбр) of the Western Group of Forces in Cottbus, GDR. In December 1979 the brigade was re-numbered from the 14th to the 35th Guards Separate Landing Assault Brigade (35-я гв одшбр).
The 351st Parachute Landing Regiment (351-й пдп) was used for the formation of the 56th Guards Separate Landing Assault Brigade (56-я гв одшбр) of the Turkestan Military District with brigade HQ in the village of Azadbash near Chirchik, Uzbek SSR.
From the late 1970s to the 1980s, 13 separate landing assault brigades were activated. These brigades provided air-mobile capability for military districts and groups of forces. In 1989, these brigades transferred to control of the VDV. During the same period, 19 separate landing assault battalions were activated. These battalions originally provided air-mobile capability to armies and other formations but were mostly disbanded in 1989.
In 1979, the 58th Air Assault Brigade was activated as a mobilization unit in Kremenchug. It was co-located with the 23rd Air Assault Brigade from 1986 and disbanded in 1989. The 128th Air Assault Brigade existed between 1986 and 1989 as a mobilization unit in Stavropol. The 130th Air Assault Brigade existed between 1986 and 1989 as a mobilization unit in Abakan.
Experimental Landing Assault units of the Ground Forces
In addition to the Landing Assault units of the Ground Forces' military districts and armies, the Soviet General Staff also experimented with the inclusion of landing assault units in experimental combined arms corps. Two such corps were formed in the mid-1980s with the task to exploit and widen the operational breakthrough in offensive operations.
In the Belorussian Military District the 120th Guards, Rogachyovskaya, awarded the Order of the Red Banner, the Order of Suvorov and the Order of Kutuzov Motor Rifle Division (120-я гвардейская мотострелковая Рогачёвская Краснознамённая, орденов Суворова и Кутузова дивизия) was transformed into the 5th Guards Combined Arms Army Corps'"Supreme Soviet of the Byelorussian SSR" (5-й отдельный Гвардейский общевойсковой армейский Рогачевский Краснознаменный орденов Суворова и Кутузова корпус им. Верховного Совета БССР.
In the Transbaikal Military District the 5th Guards, Budapeshtenskaya, awarded the Order of the Red Banner, Don Cossacks Tank Division (5-я Гвардейская танковая Будапештская Краснознамённая Донская казачья дивизия) was transformed into the 48th Guards Combined Arms Army Corps (48-й Гвардейский общевойсковой армейский корпус).
Each corps consisted of a corps HQ, two tank brigades, two mechanised brigades, a landing assault regiment of two battalions and support units and a helicopter regiment (organized into an HQ, a Mi-24 attack squadron, a Mi-8 assault squadron and a Mi-26 heavy transport squadron of 20 aircraft each). The combat and service support units were similar to those found in a tank or motor rifle division. The 5th Corps had the 1318th Separate Landing Assault Regiment and 276th Separate Helicopter Regiment, while the 48th Corps had the 1319th Separate Landing Assault Regiment and 373rd Separate Helicopter Regiment. Around 1987-88 the two corps were disbanded and reverted to divisions, losing their landing troops and helicopters.
Force Structure of the Soviet Airborne Forces in 1989
V. I. Shaykin lists the following force structure of the Soviet airborne forces in 1989 in his study:
General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces
Soviet Airborne Troops High Command (Главное командование воздушно-десантных войск) - Moscow, RSFSR
directly subordinated: 39th Separate Landing Assault Brigade (39-я отдельная десантно-штурмовая бригада) - Khyrov, Ukrainian SSR
13th Combined Arms Army (13-я общевойсковая армия) - Rovno, Ukrainian SSR
904th Separate Landing Assault Battalion (904-й отдельный десантно-штурмовой батальон) - Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Volynskyi Oblast, Ukrainian SSR
8th Tank Army (8-я танковая армия) - Zhytomyr, Ukrainian SSR
1156th Separate Landing Assault Battalion (1156-й отдельный десантно-штурмовой батальон) - Novigrad-Volynskyi, Zhytomyr Oblast, Ukrainian SSR
38th Combined Arms Army (38-й общевойсковая армия) - Ivano-Frankovsk, Ukrainian SSR
1603rd Separate Landing Assault Battalion (1603-й отдельный десантно-штурмовой батальон) - Nadvornaya, Ivano-Frankovsk Oblast, Ukrainian SSR
High Command of the Forces of the South-Western Strategic Direction (Главное командование войск Юго-Западного направления) - Kishinev, Moldavian SSR
directly subordinated: 23rd Separate Landing Assault Brigade (23-я отдельная десантно-штурмовая бригада)(partially cadred, the HQ, one AAslt battalion, the artillery battalion and the support units active) - Kremenchug, Ukrainian SSR
56th Separate Landing Assault Brigade (56-я отдельная гвардейская десантно-штурмовая бригада) - Chirchiq, Uzbek SSR
High Command of the Forces of the Far East (Главное командование войск Дальнего Востока) - Ulan-Ude, RSFSR
directly subordinated: 130th Separate Landing Assault Brigade (130-я отдельная десантно-штурмовая бригада)(cadred brigade, only brigade HQ of no more than 20 men active) - Abakan, Khakassian ASSR, RSFSR
57th Separate Landing Assault Brigade (57-я отдельная десантно-штурмовая бригада)(partially cadred, the HQ, one AAslt battalion, the artillery battalion and the support units active) - Aktogay, Semipalatinsk Oblast, Kazakh SSR
note: HH is not an official designation, but denotes Helicopter-Heavy - The original three Air Assault Brigades - the 11th, 13th and 21st had their organic helicopter regiments and they have retained them until 1988~89. The brigades, which were formed later lacked own helicopter assets and relied on the helicopter regiments of their higher echelon commands.
note: The 36th Army with its 906th Separate Assault Landing Battalion and the 86th Army Corps with its 1154th Separate Assault Landing Battalion need further investigation, as the 86th Army Corps was expanded into the 36th Combined Arms Army on June 1, 1976, and could not exist simultaneously around 1989, as the Army was itself reduced into the 55th Army Corps on June 1, 1989.
The Combined Military Band of the Airborne Forces is an integral part of all the solemn events of the Airborne Forces. Every year, the band's personnel take part in the Victory Parade on Red Square, as well as the opening ceremony of the International Army Games. In the ranks of the combined band are musicians of the military bands of the airborne and assault formations of the Airborne Forces. There are six other military bands in the airborne forces. The Song and Dance Ensemble of the Airborne Forces is the theatrical troupe of the VDV. It began its creative activity in 1937, as the Red Army Song and Dance Ensemble of the Kiev Military District, numbering only 18 people. On 3 May 1945, three days after the signing of the German armistice, the ensemble gave a concert on the steps of the destroyed Reichstag. During the Cold War, the unit was known as the Song and Dance Ensemble of the Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. During this time, it had participated in concerts in the cities of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. It gained its current status in 1994. The Song and Dance Ensemble also contains the Blue Berets musical group.
^IISS Military Balance 1985–86 p.29; Isby, Weapons and Tactics of the Soviet Army, p.36; Myles L. C. Robertson, Soviet Policy Towards Japan: An Analysis of Trends in the 1970s and 1980s, 115, via Google Books.
^Шайкин, В. И. (2013). ИСТОРИЯ СОЗДАНИЯ И ПУТИ РАЗВИТИЯ ВОЗДУШНО-ДЕСАНТНЫХ ВОЙСК (ОТ РОЖДЕНИЯ ДО ПОЧТЕННОГО ВОЗРАСТА). Ryazan, Russian Federation: Ryazan Higher School of the Airborne Forces. pp. 268–270.
^Шайкин, В. И. (2013). ИСТОРИЯ СОЗДАНИЯ И ПУТИ РАЗВИТИЯ ВОЗДУШНО-ДЕСАНТНЫХ ВОЙСК (ОТ РОЖДЕНИЯ ДО ПОЧТЕННОГО ВОЗРАСТА). Ryazan, Russian Federation: Ryazan Higher School of the Airborne Forces. pp. 268–272.
Feskov, V.I.; K.A. Kalashnikov; V.I. Golikov (2004). The Soviet Army in the Years of the 'Cold War' (1945–1991). Tomsk: Tomsk University Press. ISBN5-7511-1819-7.
Feskov, V.I.; Golikov, V.I.; Kalashnikov, K.A.; Slugin, S.A. (2013). Вооруженные силы СССР после Второй Мировой войны: от Красной Армии к Советской [The Armed Forces of the USSR after World War II: From the Red Army to the Soviet: Part 1 Land Forces] (in Russian). Tomsk: Scientific and Technical Literature Publishing. ISBN9785895035306.
Glantz, David (November 1984). The Soviet Airborne Experience. Research Survey No. 4. Combat Studies Institute.
Isby, David C., Weapons and tactics of the Soviet Army, Jane's Publishing Company, London 1988
Schofield, Carey, The Russian Elite: Inside Spetsnaz and the Airborne Forces, Stackpole/Greenhill, 1993
Simpkin, Richard, Red Armour: An examination of the Soviet Mobile Force Concept, Brassey's Defence Publishers, London, 1984
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