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The Army as Life

Why is the Russian army in real life completely different from the one we see in the parades and promotional pictures? It may come as a surprise to some, but in reality it is nothing incredible. The whole Russian (or former USSR) life was just like that – in the promotional pictures bright and beautiful, and even occasionally tempting to some “useful idiots” in the West, but in everyday life miserably unjust and pitifully primitive.

You don’t have to be a great sage to realise that one area cannot stand out from the rest. So the Soviet-Russian military machine is like the whole country – massive, inflexible, unfeeling and capable of destroying rather than creating. All the victories of that machine are associated not with liberation, but with ruin and the loss of countless lives for no purpose.

The army, like the entire so-called Soviet people, has lived through its industrialisations, collectivisations, hunger, reforms and massacres. It had its own “gulag” history. That is what this short story will be about.

It was not only hard-working farmers or “non-proletarian” poets who found themselves in camps and exiles, prisons and “sharashkas”. There was no shortage of scientists, engineers, weapons designers and military men in general.

Here I will mention a few of the more well-known ones. As everywhere… the stories start with the more famous ones.

Many of the older generation of readers were probably trained to throw hand grenades. A grenade is an effective weapon, but you can’t throw it far by hand, no matter how much you practice. The archives of the history of weapon design tell us that one of the first grenade launchers in the world should be considered a weapon called the AG-2 Taubina. Developed by engineer Yakov Taubin long before the World War II, it is a device that allows grenades to be thrown at distances far greater than a human can throw. Today, we would consider the author of the invention to be Belarusian by birthplace, Ukrainian by place of study, but in those days, maybe it was not a big deal, it was all just Soviet.

The AG-2 was not Yakov Taubin’s only invention. The engineer improved artillery and developed machine guns for aircraft. For the latter he was awarded the Order of Lenin. But the grenade launcher, tested in the memorable “Winter War”, did not “catch on”. And the author himself was later arrested and executed without trial in the autumn of 1941. The indictment that remains in the case alleges that Yakov Taubin allegedly kept and concealed samples of unfinished, untested and unproven weapons… In fact, he was a designer and he was making things that had not yet been tested and certified…

Leonid Kurchevsky, who worked in the field of artillery, especially in the design of land artillery and naval guns with reduced recoil (anyone who has fired a gun knows what recoil means), was also a talented designer. Some of the technical ideas (e.g. venting of excess gases through side ports) are also applicable to today’s armaments. Several times decorated, twice imprisoned and finally sentenced to be shot in the fateful year 1937. This was the time of the “purge”, which perhaps did the most damage to the military of the USSR. At the centre of this was the so-called Tukhachevsky Case. At the time, the First Marshal of the USSR Mikhail Tukhachevsky was accused of allegedly setting up a Trotskyist organisation (although this is believed to have been Josef Stalin’s revenge for the failed war with Poland). Leonid Kurchevsky, however, was friends with the Marshal, and was then “swept away”, along with three of the country’s five marshals, 90 per cent of the Generalitat, 80 per cent of the colonels, and more than 30,000 junior officers.

Here is my modest question: if so many heads were behind the defeat of Poland, how many will be behind the military nonsense in Ukraine? And what about that most important head?

But let’s go back to the world of military designers. We have all seen the legendary Russian T-34 tank. Some 80,000 of these tanks were produced. Although more than half of them were destroyed in the battle, the T-34 is considered a really good tank. The story of its creation is a real adventure. Formally, the designer’s laurels went to Mikhail Koshkin, who worked in Kharkiv, Ukraine, then ruled by the USSR. However, the prototype and the original chassis were designed by an American, J. Walker Christie. Unfortunately, the Americans decided not to use this design and secretly sold several models… to the Soviet Union. By the way, they sold it as… tractors. Researchers of the history of tank construction say that the real “father” of the T-34 should be Afanasi Firsov, a specialist in diesel engines and transport mechanics. Afanasi Firsov, born in Berdyansk, Ukraine (now occupied), studied in Germany and Switzerland during the Tsarist Russia era and led the development of Soviet tanks. He was, however, an unreliable “bourgeois element” and was persecuted and eventually became another victim of repression. Mikhail Koshkin, who succeeded Afanasi Firsov, was more of a party functionary than a designer, but in any case managed to get all Afanasi Firsov’s ideas right and to “formalise” the unfinished business. (By the way, fate did not spare him – Mikhail Koshkin did not get the real glory of the T-34 – he died in 1940 of pneumonia contracted during the winter testing of the tank.)

Josef Stalin’s terror did not spare rocket designers. Georgy Langemak, the inventor of the well-known Katyusha (incidentally of German origin), was executed in 1938, allegedly for sabotage. His immediate superior Ivan Kleimionov was also shot, and the designer Valentin Glushko (a Ukrainian who later worked with Sergey Korolyov in the space rocket programme) was sentenced to eight years then…

By the way, such celebrities as Sergey Korolyov and Aleksey Tupolev served time in jail, too. A whole series of scientists (I have a long list, but this article will not be enough to name all) worked in the so-called “sharashkas”, the inner life of which was described in detail by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

All these people were later rehabilitated, awarded with orders, and streets, space bodies, and lunar craters were named after them. But the whole Soviet system has some kind of auto-immune disease to destroy itself. And I think it is not Josef Stalin’s fault. A system that lives on the basis of pro-scientific consumption cannot be creative. That is why, after Josef Stalin, anything that is innovative or secret in any way becomes both corrupt and… stolen. Not only the country has become corrupt, but also its biggest “controller” – the KGB. As I have already mentioned, one segment of life cannot function well when another segment functions badly. The system was and is unpredictable not because it is clever. Rather, it is mind-bogglingly stupid. So it’s no coincidence that it was said that “…white bread by the Black Sea is far better than the other way round…”

And what about the post-Soviet period? It has been “measured” that the most intellectual progress has been made in the field of crime organisation. Indeed – the biggest crimes are not committed by drunken heads, but by soulless, cynical minds. By the way, the armed forces are trying to collect namely those.

Post scriptum to the 9 May parade:

People were talking that a gypsy stole a tank in the Ukrainian war. It’s a small thing. They steal so much that there is nothing to show. The parade proudly carried the modern 9K51M Tornado-G, which is just a small modification of the BM-21 Grad. And those Grads were put into service… in 1963. Spectators didn’t see warplanes because of the weather. It is said that the much-hyped Il-80 (the flying headquarters of the State Command in case of war) just… did not fly. In 2020, during a preventive maintenance inspection, unique parts were missing (stolen, to tell the truth) from the aircraft. If such a plane can be stolen, then why we should wonder of the war in Ukraine.

Egidijus Eareikis

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