The Bolshevik

The Bolshevik
A painting from 1920 by Russian artist Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev (1878–1927) currently in the possession of The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

25 October 2011

Examples of Four of the Most Common Military Awards Members of Soviet State Security Were Eligible For


For the most part, members of a paramilitary organization such as the NKVD and NKGB (OGPU – later the MGB and finally the KGB) were in a similar “gray area” as people who were in the Soviet diplomatic corps. At least periodically, they both answered directly to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union instead of the chief of the armed and naval forces.
The following are examples of awards and Orders that the NKVD and sometimes members of SMERSH were eligible to receive.

Note: all of the photos below were taken by me of orders and medals in my collection. Any other photos used will be indicated as such. Many of the best awards, flags and uniforms in my collection were once part of collections of very good friends and fellow collectors/historians including Paul J. Schmitt, Norm Braddock, Alexei Merezhko, families of original awardees, others who wish to remain anonymous, and many, many more whose knowledge far surpasses mine in their areas of expertise. I am now and always will be grateful to these trustworthy people who continue to find authentic "needles" in a proverbial "haystack" of counterfeit items made and sold purely for the purpose of turning a profit at the expense of history.

Early Medal for Bravery. Left-face of the medal;Right-reverse
(serial #106366). The screw plate used to fix the medal to a
uniform may not be original to this medal. The plate has the
Russian word Monetniy Dvor or simply "mint." The medal is
made of silver with enamel filling the Russian words For
Bravery and the initials for the USSR. Photos made possible
by Norm Braddock.
Since NKVD agents tended to come from within the ranks of the military, they usually had already been awarded one or more medals by that point. The two most common medals awarded were the Order of Bravery and the Medal for Combat Service. The first types of both of these medals started out with 4-sided screw post suspensions before later, under new regulations, the five-sided ones that all medals and many orders hung from.
Early four-sided suspension Combat Service Medal which was
typically awarded to non-officer servicemen and women as
well as NKVD and SMERSH troops. This medal is also made
from silver with enamel filling the Cyrillic letters "CCCP"
which stood for USSR in Russian. Photos made possible by
Norm Braddock.
The Bolsheviks had done away with all orders and medals when they initially assumed power because they thought that such decorations furthered the imperial notion of class separation. However, it was not very long before a few awards were instituted. The first order to be issued nationally was the Order of the Red Banner. For many years, this was the highest award one could be given either for combat merits or lengthy and exemplary service in the Red Army. Eventually, a specific set of “irreproachable service” medals were established and the awarding of orders for long service was abolished. The Order of the Red Banner was given as a companion award to anyone receiving the Order of Lenin.

Originally, the Order of the Red Banner was a “screw back” award with a central screw post that had a large silver screw plate or “nut” to hold the order in place on the uniform. During WWII, the order was transformed to hang from a five-sided suspension that pinned to the uniform rather than punched a hole through it.

The Order of the Red Banner was originally a "screw back" award, but was converted to be held by a five-sided suspension (above). The ubiquitous phrase of the Soviet era was written in the red flag: "Workers of the World Unite!" as well as the Cyrillic initials for USSR across the lower section of the obverse. The order was made from silver with dramatic red enamel work behind any text with gold and silver plating on specific parts for contrast of iconic symbols of the Bolshevik Revolution such as the hammer, plough and bayonet. The reverse of this particular example shows the words Monetniy Dvor or simply "mint" and the hand-engraved serial number 160410. Many of these orders issued in the 100,000 range were for long service. As soldiers, NKVD and SMERSH troops were eligible recipients of the order.

Another order that state security troops were eligible for during WWII and later in the Korean War, Vietnam War and the Afghanistan War as well as during peacetime was the Order of the Red Star (ORS). The order went through a number of changes though it remained a screw back until the end of the Soviet Union. The first of these orders issued were worn with a red silk “rosette” to make it “pop out” on the uniform. Later, the cloth backing was abandoned and the ORS was worn directly on the uniform. Unlike the previous order and medals, this one was worn on the wearer's right breast (see photos below).

An Order of the Red Star with a serial number in the 1.3 million range which would put the awarding of this ORS in approximately 1944-45. Since over 4 million were issued by 1991 - the vast majority of which were for conduct prior to 1950 - this number is not considered very high by collectors. The previous/original owner clearly polished the silver very heavily since the natural tarnish is very light.

This ORS has a serial number over the 2.1 million mark, yet the natural patina of the silver is more evident. Also, this particular type was somewhat wider in the arms of the star and the tips of each arm were slightly rounded unlike the points on the ORS in the first picture. Nearly all Orders of the Red Star with serial numbers above 2.1 million were issued in 1945, according to extrapolation of information in Paul J. Schmitt's book Echoes of War: Researching Soviet Military Decorations.* The serial number is also hand engraved again though in a much larger script. 
A controversial and relatively rare item is the duplicate or dublikat (Russian - дубликат) which was made for recipients of a medal or order who for an acceptable "official" reason had lost the original. On the example above, a Cyrillic "Д" was stamped below the serial number. The original number was sanded off most likely at the mint and was then given a new and in this case, stamped, serial number. Due to this reprocessing, there is no way to tell what the original serial number was though serious collectors could give a safe estimate based on the order's shape, style and weight - all of this type of information is cataloged in numerous sources, but one of the most respected and commonly used is Ордена и медали СССР (Orders and Medals of the USSR) whose web address is The controversy comes from debates among collectors as to how reliable a duplicate order or medal is when so many of these Soviet awards are counterfeited with extreme skill and precision.

The portrait above is of NKVD General V.M. Blokhin who is wearing two Orders of the Red Banner on his left breast and an Order of the Red Star on his right breast just above the two shield and sword NKVD fifth and tenth anniversary badges. He also wears an Order of the Red Banner of Labor and Order of the Badge of Honor (last two on top row, right), which are normally non-military awards that security service personnel were also eligible to be given. These and other awards available to Cheka-KGB agents will be discussed in future chapters. One thing that should be mentioned about General Blokhin is that he was a viscious man who was responsible for some of the horrors that made the NKVD under Stalin such an infamous organization. Military decorations do not make a better man or woman. 

*Schmitt, Paul J. Echoes of War: Researching Soviet Military Decorations; Historical Research L.L.C., Lorton, West Virginia, 2006.
** Photo courtesy of "slava1stclass" (see note about him in previous chapter).