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.

21 April 2012

A Few Pictures of Older Chekist Materials Whilst Continuing Combing Through the Latest Data on SMERSH for Future Chapters

A photo of what appears to be a NKVD border guard posing in front of a regiment flag/banner. That particular pose, with the same type of PPSh automatic rifle is similar to that of the Medal for Distinguished Service in Protecting the State Border that was issued beginning in 1950 by the State Security Committee of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet [meaning "Council"] of the USSR. Once the NKVD was dismantled into the MVD and the MGB (Ministry of State Security) and in 1954 into the KGB, the Border Guard was placed under the control of the KGB. KGB Border Guard troops played an important role in the Soviet-Afghanistan War - particularly at the outset in December of 1979. 
A почетная грамота ("Pochetnaya Gramota")
or roughly a "Certificate of Recognition" in
honor of the 20th anniversary of the NKVD's
armed troops awarded to V.K. Lovanova.
Gramotas were a common citation awarded to
civilians as well as military and security
personnel for a variety of reasons and
achievements. Photo by Robert S. Pandis

Throughout the 
history of the
Soviet security
services, leaders
and members
alike had an
affinity for
finely - and
especially early
on - hand-crafted
badges of honor
distinction from
both the public
and each other.

Typically, these badges were rather ornate and made from silver, fine enamel work and frequently were gold-plated in specific areas, particularly the hilt of the ubiquitous sword.

If this were a real badge it would be a very rare OGPU honor badge that does not have the ubiquitous Soviet Communist phrase: "Workers of the World Unite" as this one does. Rather, it should read something more along the lines of: "For the Struggle Against the Counterrevolution" since nearly all Soviet Security Service award badges have a text beginning with the Russian word "за" or "for" in English.

Granted, many of the highest ranking members of the Communist regime (generals, commissars and other political "elites" in the Kremlin) were given some of the later commemorative and/or anniversary badges as a token of homage or respect (or as a bribe) for who they were and for the positive influence they could bring to bear in favor of the organizations. This happened more often much after the KGB (Committee for State Security) and the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) came into being in 1954 as the final incarnation of all previous security agencies.

[Note: the badge above is a copy of a purportedly original OGPU brass honor badge. However, because of the near perfect enamel work without any hairline cracks or chips as is very common with nearly all enameled badges from before 1940 and a number of other details, this one is certainly a fake. In fact, I have neither seen one like this that I consider original nor, for that matter, have I encountered one in any reference book dealing with early Soviet State Security badges. From the first days of the Russian Revolution in 1917 until the late 1930s, many of the highest quality badges were made by hand from a single silversmith who left his/her unique "signature" stamp(s) on the reverse of the badge as seen below.] 

Photos by Robert S. Pandis

Photos (above and below right) by
Robert S. Pandis

On the left is an ID cover for a five-year anniversary badge of the Cheka-GPU as pictured above. Unfortunately, a photo of the text/document inside was unavailable from the CD "book" by Commander Robert S. Pandis  - Cheka: Distinguished Worker Awards of the Soviet Secret Police from which this, the previous two photos and the following two pictures were taken. However, the inner text and background design of the XV badge ID booklet below is likely a good indicator of how the V booklet's inner layout appeared.*

The XVth and the Vth Chekist anniversary badge ID booklet (the former pictured on the right) was awarded - along with the badge itself - to members of the OGPU, despite the markings on the lower ribbon of the badge that read "Cheka-GPU." Regardless, both covers are embossed in gold with an image of the badge they were presented with and the text: "USSR Statute" of the All-Union ("O") State Political Directorate (GPU). Inside, is another representation of the appropriate badge as a background for the text that explains what the badge is for and to whom it was given.

Photo by Robert S. Pandis
The inside of the award booklet for the 15th anniversary of the Cheka-GPU (1917-1932) above shows an image of the badge that was given along with the booklet which has the text "Honored Chekist" on either side of the drawing of the badge as well as "VChK" in the paper background on the left side and "GPU" on the right side. This particular document was awarded to V.R. Menzhinsky by the "All-Union" GPU. The awardee's name was simply typed in the space beneath the image of the badge just above the place (Moscow) and date (1931) that the booklet was printed.

The above ID document was issued in 1931 to an officer of the "PP" OGPU, or the полномочное представит - which means a plenipotentiary or "diplomatic agent" of the OGPU. The ID authorizes the holder to carry weapons and act with the full authority of the OGPU as an agent both within and outside the borders of the Soviet Union. This sort of document was carried by OGPU agents who literally had a "license to kill." Such documents are extremely rare for collectors to find and based on the size of the stamp used on each side of the ID, this one was very small (about a third the size of modern U.S. federal agent ID documents).

The partial photo above depicts an OGPU agent wearing the 10th anniversary of the OGPU badge with a "rosette" or (typically) a deep red velvet cloth cut to fit behind the badge to prevent any damage to the uniform itself. What is barely visible on the left is a child sitting on the knee of the officer. It was common practice at the time for both military and Chekist officers to have family portraits taken with the officer in full dress uniform. This example photo is from "slava1stclass" whose photos have appeared elsewhere on this site. The right side shows a closeup of the OGPU 10th anniversary badge with the red enamel flag, lower banner and star at the top. It is difficult to tell which of the gold, silver or bronze background type badges this was from the photo. Note: The man pictured is wearing the famous "Budyonovka" cap that was worn by many non-officer ranking soldiers before and during WWII.

An NKGB/MGB dress or "parade"
tunic from the post WWII era.
Photo by "Richie C" (Soviet Military Awards Page
Forum Member)

Regardless of their earlier reputation, the final versions of these agencies did not have nearly the same powers that their Cheka-GPU predecessors did - particularly when foreign and internal services (NKVD) were combined under Lavrenti Beria when even members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and government ministers lived in fear of him nearly as much as they did Stalin himself. Moreover, after Stalin died in 1953, Beria had his sights set on replacing him but was arrested by members of the faction supporting Nikita Krushchev as the new leader of the Soviet Union and subsequently executed. Once Beria's influence was essentially removed, attention was focused on the restructuring of the security services he had built up into organizations of terror. The title of "People's Commissariat" (or abbreviation "NK") had already been replaced with "Ministry" so that the NKVD became the MVD and the NKGB became the MGB. Though Beria sought to combine the two under the single department of the Ministry for Internal Affairs (MVD) with a branch designated for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence. Those who opposed him - which after the death of Stalin were numerous - not only maintained the separation, but also "demoted" the MGB to the status of "Committee" (or "комитет" in Russian) which resulted in the final name of KGB - subsequently requiring their leadership to report to the Central Committee of the Communist Party or State Duma rather than directly to whomever might be at the helm of the USSR at the time, as had been the case before.

Below is a photo of a group of OGPU personnel in 1924. The photo is cropped from a cardboard "frame" which lists the names of those pictured on the reverse (the entire ensemble is pictured below in smaller frames in the original cardboard "frame" in its current sepia colors).

Photos provided by Richie C

Finally, a "colorized" photo of a group of NKVD class graduates.
Photo provided by Richie C
This is literally a photograph of NKVD school graduates in field uniforms with the indicative symbol of the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs - the oval shield with the hammer and sickle motif and the sword pointing downward through the back.

* Robert Pandis has since published a paper bound edition of the CD with much more information and many more excellent photos of awards and associated documents from the Soviet security services. He envisions another three editions in addition to the current Cheka: Soviet Secret Police Awards 1917-1995. For more information about the book and others he has authored, see

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